Kiel Ranch: An Historic Disgrace in North Las Vegas

Ask the mayor and city council in North Las Vegas why Kiel Ranch can't be preserved and protected, and then the I-Team will ask them too. Here are the phone numbers: 

Mayor's Office: 633-1007
Parks & Recreation: 633 1171
City Council: 633-1012
City Council E-mail link

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The City of North Las Vegas has spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars to preserve one of the most important historical sites in our entire state. Unfortunately, you wouldn't know it from looking at the place. The Kiel Ranch is overgrown with weeds, infested with trash, and sealed off from the public. So, where did all that money go?

(Scroll down for Kiel Canyon-related links)

Thirty years of neglect and incompetence on the part of North Las Vegas officials, that's what's happened to the Kiel Ranch. Every promise that's been made has been broken; every plan that's been commissioned has been tanked. The booming City of North Las Vegas, so awash in tax dollars that it wants to give money back to the public, has gone out of its way to ignore what was once a green oasis in our valley and the place where civilization took root here.

As some critics have alleged, it's a downright disgrace. "After 150 years, it's still here," said Corinne Escobar with the Clark County Preservation Association.

Like the Kiel Ranch itself, preservationist Corinne Escobar is hanging on by her fingernails, clinging to a thin hope that it isn't too late to save a small sliver of the past.

The crumbling adobe house on the property may be Nevada's oldest building, possibly built by the first Mormon settlers in the valley who used it to teach farming to the Paiutes. Abundant spring water made it an oasis of green in a hostile desert. It's one of the birthplaces of Las Vegas itself and is on the National Historic Registry. So, how does Kiel Ranch go from historic treasure to forgotten eyesore? The answer is it took a lot of work.

Thirty years ago, thanks to federal bicentennial funds and generous donors, the City of North Las Vegas was given 27 acres of the Kiel Ranch. It was a major event. Political leaders vowed to create an historic park with campgrounds and trails. A mere 7 months later, a young councilwoman named Mary Kincaid led the charge to sell off the land to pay for other projects.

Eventually, a generous campaign donor named Ray Vega bought 22 of the 27 acres for a modest $1.1 million. He did built a park -- an industrial park -- consisting of several warehouses. City leaders had to ignore a clause in the original deed, which specified the land could only be used for public purposes. But they agreed the money from the sale would be earmarked for the ranch. More than $600,000 has been spent so far, along with tens of thousands of dollars in state grants. But there is little to show for any of it.

An upper parking lot was built and immediately padlocked. A rickety canopy meant to protect the adobe house from the elements is itself in disrepair. Fencing erected to keep vagrants out isn't much of a barrier. Much of the ranch is covered with trash. The springs are choked with overgrown weeds, and most of the buildings have been completely destroyed. And $200,000 went to consultants who drew up plans and conducted studies that went nowhere.

Preservationist Corinne Escobar continued, "But nothing, as you can see, nothing has happened except decay and neglect."

In 1992, city staffers made a pitch to the state to help save the ranch, but they were stopped in their tracks when a mysterious fire wiped out the mansion that would have been the centerpiece of the proposed park. Fire investigators found accelerant in six places.

News stories continued to tout the great progress North Las Vegas was making at the ranch, even as the property fell apart. The Kiel Ranch funds could have earned an extra $40,000 per year, but amazingly, city officials put the money in a non-interest bearing account. Was all of this done on purpose?

Historian and author Michael Green said, "Here's a key part of the identity of North Las Vegas and it's as if it's something out of a James Bond movie where they erase the fingerprints. They seem to be doing their best to forget their past. It's unconscionable."

Mike Henley, the current director with North Las Vegas Parks Department, says the Kiel Ranch simply isn't a priority in his fast growing city. Parks with ball fields are what the public wants. He says $450,000 is left in the ranch fund and is being used for maintenance.

How does Henley describe the current state of the ranch? "It's in a state of, uh, not being developed," he said.

So adamant is the city about not preserving the ranch that it recently rejected an offer by the Bureau of Land Management that would have sent $2.4 million into preservation efforts. The city council would prefer to move the adobe house, so it said no thanks to the money.

The I-Team asked Parks director Henley if he had anything else to say about the future of the ranch. "Yeah. Leave me alone," he replied.

I went back over all of my notes and questions and couldn't find one single thing about the Kiel Ranch story that would inspire laughter or anything else that's even remotely funny. At a minimum, the City of North Las Vegas has badly mismanaged the ranch itself along with hundreds of thousands of public dollars.

The city council seems to think it's feasible to move what remains of the adobe house somewhere else, but it seems more like they just want it gone.

Several other experts say trying to move the adobe house would destroy it considering how fragile it is. More importantly, there's intrinsic value of having it at this site. It sits on the ground from which the adobe bricks were made. We don't have that anywhere else. Kiel Ranch is it.

As for Mr. Henley's request that we leave him alone? Afraid not.

Email Investigative Reporter George Knapp at gknapp@klastv.com 

Kiel Ranch is located at 200 West Caery Avenue, North Las Vegas.
Click here for the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey for Kiel Ranch.


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