It’s been just more than a year since Rocky Mountain Airpark developer Pete Vinton lost his life in a single-engine plane crash just 5 miles east of Parker. The tiny private airfield and gated community that was once his life’s passion now sits quietly among the blowing grass and ponderosa pine.
And for the first time, Vinton’s widow spoke out about the accident, the grieving process and how a handful of friends and mysterians have helped her and her husband’s former partner, Tom Schader, keep the airpark running in the absence of its No. 1 cheerleader.
“I’ve been so amazed at the kindness of the community,” said Miriam Vinton in a soft, yet confident voice. “People have stepped up to care for the property, its residents and its neighbors at a time when it would have been easy to do otherwise.”
The fatal April 23, 2011 crash took not only the life of Vinton’s husband, but that of passenger Dave McIntosh, and left many unsure of what would happen.
Vinton said although the accident left her numb for days, her concerns were more for her children and others affected by the accident.
“Part of the grieving process is that it’s hard to think clearly,” Vinton said. “It just didn’t seem real, but the shock and disbelief phase (of grieving) is a varied process for everyone, and for me, it lasted quite a while.”
At a vulnerable time in her life, Vinton, who is a licensed professional counselor and, ironically, specializes in grief counseling, admitted she’d eventually need help.
“There was so much to do with the estate, the kids in college, and trying to figure out the finances of the business,” she sighed. “I just had to rely on the people I could. I tried to do exactly what I tell my clients… keep moving forward and handle what you can — one step at a time.”
In addition to her husband’s personal affairs, Vinton also had to tackle issues with the airpark. Not having been involved with the project directly, she had no idea where to begin.
Fortunately, Pete Vinton’s business partner, Schader, walked her through much of the paperwork and details.
While fees from hangar rentals account for a large portion of operational costs, there’s still plenty to do.
Mack Page, a 67-year-old neighbor who hangars his plane at the airpark, volunteers much of his time to ensure the property’s daily maintenance and operations remain on track.
“Mack has been amazing,” said Vinton. “He takes care of all the things that aren’t working, and then others just come out on their own and do things. Somebody will come out and weed, somebody will mow, and then someone else will come back and water the trees.”
Friends, property owners and “people who just really like airplanes,” have all had a hand over the past year in ensuring the airpark runs efficiently, abides by all rules and covenants, and strives to be a good neighbor.
While Pete Vinton’s dream was to create a fly-in community reminiscent of the golden age of aviation, his widow and friends believe what he created was far more than a place to park a plane.
He created a community.
Vinton and Page both agree the troubled airpark is no longer about the airplanes.
It’s more about people.
“Truly, we’re just one big family out here,” said Page who is especially fond of telling the airpark’s history. “It’s the people and camaraderie we treasure most.”
Vinton said things are quiet now, and there are just a handful of lots still for sale.
“We still want to see the project succeed,” she said. “In whatever form that may be.”
The airpark sits on what was originally part of the 1875 homestead of Charles Monroe Everitt, who came to Colorado shortly before statehood.
Page said stories of Vinton, as well as the Everitt homestead still bring friends, neighbors and residents together.
“Although we’ve lost our greatest storyteller,” he said, “we’re still carrying on the legacy. And we’re still tellin’ the stories.”