Rio Tinto retains Ryan Camp as conservancy looks to acquire public land.
Exactly six months after park Superintendent Craighead received a phone call from Rio Tinto July 21, 2009, and was told that Ryan Camp would not be donated to the park service, park staff was still in a state of disbelief and deep disappointment. Email exchanges among park staff Jan. 21, 2010, detailed worry and questions over the future of Ryan Camp. Park staff were not alone in their concerns as there were other local nonprofit groups that also had questions.
Park staff admitted that they had no idea Henry Golas and the Death Valley Conservancy, also referred to as the Death Valley Fund early on, had an interest in taking possession of Ryan. The park was unaware of what the conservancy’s plans were or how they would fund it. The park thought that it would probably be funded with an endowment from Rio Tinto. There were also questions as to if the conservancy would form a partnership with the park for using Ryan as a learning center, educational tours and a historic preservation center. There had been some “polite conversation” about these items but the park was taking a wait and see approach.
The park was also unaware of the conservancy’s site management plan for Ryan or how Ryan would fit into the broader regional preservation and tourism goals. The relationship between the park and the conservancy was not surprisingly questionable and the park and the conservancy were not scheduled to meet again until July.
The parks concern and questions about the conservancy’s interests in Ryan caused the park to request additional language in Senator Feinstein’s recently introduced bill, the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, in case the deal between Rio Tinto and the conservancy did not work out.
The Death Valley Conservancy’s 2009 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the return of organizations exempt from income tax, was signed by Golas April 7, 2010. The conservancy reported a fund balance of $229,060 and total program service expenses of $4,000. The conservancy provided $1,000 donations and grants to the Death Valley Natural History Association, Shoshone Museum, Beatty Museum and Historical Society and the Searles Valley Historical Society. Preston Chiaro was listed as a director and president at a Rio Tinto business address in South Jordan, Utah, and Henry Golas was a director, secretary and treasurer at an address in Santa Barbara, California. The conservancy’s primary exempt purpose was to preserve Death Valley and its resources.
By April 2010 Ryan Camp was still under the care of Rio Tinto’s Legacy Management division out of the Rio Tinto Regional Center in South Jordan, Utah. The team with legacy management is responsible for closure, cleaning, remediation and reclamation of Rio Tinto’s many mines, mills, smelters, packaging and processing plants once they reach their end of life or are sold.
The legacy management staff at Ryan Camp closed almost all the old borax mines in the area that belonged to Rio Tinto. Mine portals were secured from entry by the public and bat gates were installed where evidence of bat habitation was found. Several of the species of bats occupying the mines were threatened or endangered so the bat gates provided for conservation and protection.
Maintenance at Ryan Camp was completed to the extent possible based on time and budget constraints. Much of the work involved removing mudslide debris on the uphill side of the buildings, repairing roofs during and after wind storms and keeping roads cleared from storm debris. All the broken windows at the camp were replaced with period glass, some plumbing was replaced, and stairs and damaged walls were repaired or replaced.
April 16, 2010, park staff contacted the legacy management staff at Ryan Camp and asked if they could arrange for a tour for the Desert Managers Group which would be in the park in May. The Desert Managers Group is comprised of managers from other national parks, Bureau of Land Management offices, the Forest Service and other government organizations based in southern California.
Visitors to Ryan Camp in the past were required to sign liability release forms. Legacy management staff informed the park that they had been given a new form by Henry Golas which prohibited visitors from taking and posting photos of Ryan on the internet or using the photos for commercial purposes. Though Ryan Camp was still owned by Rio Tinto, the legacy management staff had been told to go along with Golas on the new form. It was also learned that the proposal to give Ryan Camp to the Death Valley Conservancy would be made to the head of Rio Tinto, Tom Albanese, in the coming week.
Golas emailed park staff Feb. 4, 2011, following up with his idea to acquire public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management to secure ancillary historical Ryan assets. The email Golas sent Sept. 8, 2009, included a map that showed one parcel of land directly north of Ryan Camp.
The map that Golas included with the second email showed an additional parcel of land extending farther north from Ryan and included parcels of land on the south and east sides of Ryan. The original parcel of land submitted Sept. 8 was labeled “BLM” and on the second map this label had been changed to “Minimum BLM Lands.” The additional land parcels farther north and the south and east sides of Ryan colored yellow were labeled “Optional Enhancement #1 Brings in most Ryan associated landscape.” There was also another large parcel of land northeast of Ryan colored green and labeled “Optional Enhancement #2 Includes cemetery and railroad grade up to the first trestle.”
It appears that the idea to acquire the public land was due to the loss of surface rights on land referred to as “Parcel #1.” Golas elaborated further that he opened a dialogue with Senator Feinstein and planned to pursue the idea with others to the best that they could. Golas closed the email by saying that the park’s support would certainly be of benefit to his cause.
The meeting that had been mentioned to be held sometime in July 2010 between the Death Valley Conservancy and the park apparently never occurred. Records from the park indicate that the next meeting to be held after the Jan. 7, 2010, meeting was one year later Feb. 18,
2011. In that meeting park staff met with Chiaro and Golas and the conservancy’s attorney Kari Krusmark. Also present for the conservancy was Scott Smith who was an employee for the Death Valley Conservancy.
Included in the many items discussed was mention of negotiating, finalizing and signing a Friends/Fundraising Agreement and to agree on a process for vetting donors by both the park and the DVC. It was also noted that there was a need to strengthen the relationship between the DVC, the Death Valley Natural History Association and the park. There would also be a Park Partners gathering to function as an “ice breaker” and to find common ground. The DVC also provided an update that they would be building their board up to 9 and would also add an Advisory Board.
San Jose State University started their Field Studies in Natural History program in 1931. It held its first session in Death Valley in 1937 and it was extremely successful. During the following years the facility and students camped in various locations in Death Valley and had to endure high winds and damaged camp sites.
The Field Studies program turned to U.S. Borax for help and in 1952 U.S. Borax allowed the students and faculty to stay in the Death Valley View Hotel in Ryan Camp. Two years later the students attending the field studies class in Ryan Camp partnered with park ranger L. Floyd Keller and the Death Valley Natural History Association was created. The Field Studies program enjoyed its home at Ryan Camp in Death Valley 59 years.
Now that the Death Valley Conservancy was in the process of acquiring Ryan Camp from U.S. Borax changes were in the air. The Field Studies program made the decision to leave Ryan Camp for its March 2011 session. Instead of Ryan Camp the program was held in Furnace Creek with the assistance and dedicated support of the Death Valley Natural History Association.
Death Valley National Park announced April 5, 2011 that U.S. Borax Inc., the company that began borate mining in Death Valley in 1872 and was instrumental in helping to create the area as a national monument in the 1930s, donated 110 acres of land with mineral rights to Death Valley National Park. The donated land was located east of the park boundary adjacent to Dante’s Peak Road.
The donated land consisted of three patented claims on undeveloped land. The Fag End Borax Placer Mining Claim, the Hope Mine Lode Claim and the Oversight Borate Mine Lode Claim were part of the Mount Blanca Borax and Salt Mining District which was also called the Death Valley Mining District. The U.S. Department of the Interior signed a certificate of acceptance for the donation Oct. 28, 2010, and U.S. Borax Inc. recorded the donation grant deed in Inyo County, California Nov. 22, 2010.
The Death Valley Conservancy met again with park staff July 15, 2011. The conservancy was represented by Chiaro, Golas and DVC employee Scott Smith. The conservancy updated park staff that they had questions concerning the agreement between the DVC and the park and their attorney had not yet provided answers. For a potential project funding item Golas suggested a large scanner for the park’s curatorial department. Golas also informed the park that the Offield Family Foundation donated $25,000 to the DVC.
The DVC related that it doesn’t intend to run programs but would be open to programs managed by other organizations and Smith will be going to the University of Southern California for a historic preservation conference. Minor restoration and maintenance had also been completed at Ryan Camp.
Golas also related that the DVC had a new board member, Sandra Moore. Moore grew up in Beatty, Nevada, and was the postmaster in Death Valley. Moore married Jeff Moore who worked for U.S. Borax in Ryan Camp and currently live in Yerington, Nevada. Golas would like to recruit Diane Keaton (American film actress) who reportedly loves the desert and supports land conservation.
During the Feb. 18, 2011, meeting between the park and the DVC it was discussed that there was a need to strengthen the relationship between the DVC, the Death Valley Natural History Association and the park, and a Park Partners gathering would provide an opportunity to serve as an “ice breaker” and find common ground. The Park Partners event did take place Oct. 26, 2011, hosted by the Death Valley Lodging Company at Stovepipe Wells Village.
Just as U.S. Borax has done for over 27 years, July 22, 2011, a notice of intent to hold mining claims and mill sites was recorded in Inyo County, California. The document, signed by Dennis Boyle, Land Director with U.S. Borax, described 232 claims and sites. Most of the locations of these claims and sites were discovered in 1981, 1983, 1994 and 1996. Many of these claims and sites are around the Ryan Camp area and explained in a U.S. Borax Pioneer magazine article titled Ryan Revisited by Steven B. Carpenter, Volume 32 No. 1, 1991.
During this time, as Preston Chiaro and Henry Golas were working hard to establish the Death Valley Conservancy and negotiating with Rio Tinto to acquire Ryan Camp in Death Valley, a very unfortunate event occurs for Henry Golas. Documents filed with the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara, reveal in a stipulated judgement that Golas separated from his wife, Patricia Berns Golas, on Aug. 9, 2011. The couple had been married 26 years prior in Furnace Creek, Death Valley.
The Death Valley Conservancy’s 2010 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the return of organizations exempt from income tax, was signed by Golas Nov. 14, 2011. The conservancy reported a fund balance of $258,605 and total program service expenses of $5,500. The conservancy provided a $5,000 grant to the park service for a bird survey and a $500 grant to the Death Valley Natural History Association to support an underprivileged student camping program called Death Valley ROCKS. (Recreation Outdoors Campaign for Kids through Study)
The conservancy also reported receiving personal aggregate cash contributions in the amounts of $5,000 and $5,148 and a $12,800 non-cash contribution for various staff time spent on conservancy business. Chiaro and Golas were listed as the only officers of the organization.
The American Borate Company was purchased from Tennaco Minerals in 1976 by a partnership consisting of Owens Corning Fiberglass Corporation and Texas United. Shortly after the acquisition, Owens Corning bought out Texas United. Construction began in 1977 on the development of the Billie ore body which was located 1,200 feet below the surface in Death Valley National Monument. The Billie Mine became active in 1982 and the ore bodies consisted of boron minerals.
Colemanite from the Billie mine was trucked 30 miles to the American Borate Company flotation plant for processing at Lathrop Wells, Nevada, north of Death Valley Junction in Amargosa Valley. Other ore from the mine was trucked to Dunn Siding, California, where it was crushed and placed in storage bins for shipment. Residential facilities for the employees at the Billie mine were in Lathrop Wells, Valley Crest and Furnace Creek.
The Billie mine operated for many years as an underground borax mine adjacent to the road to Dante’s View overlooking Death Valley National Park and it was the only active mine in the park for the last 10 years. When the Billie mine closed in 2005 the last of Death Valley’s mines had ceased operations.
Six years later the American Borate Company donated patented lode mining claims and mill sites to the National Park Service. The donation grant deed was recorded Dec. 19, 2011, in Inyo County, California. The eight parcels totaling 432 acres consisted of the lode mining claims Boraxo No. 1 and 2, Kathleen No. 2, 3, 5 and 8, Billie No. 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 21 and 22, Sigma No. 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. The mill sites were the Linda, Diane, Joyce and Jeff No. 49, 50, 55, 56, 57, 62 and 68. The donation also included buildings, improvements and equipment. The site of the Billie mine portal included a very large head-frame hoist and conveyor and escape hoist. Other structures included towers, bins, hose station, water and fuel storage tanks, office, powerhouse, shop, warehouse, maintenance facility, compressor building and guard house.
Jan. 10, 2012, the Campaign for the California Desert, which is a coalition of conservation groups, community leaders and businesses dedicated to protecting our desert landscapes, confirmed that the proposed boundary addition to include the land around Ryan Camp with Death Valley National Park in Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Protection bill had been dropped because an agreement could not be made between the various parties involved.
The Death Valley Conservancy met with park staff Jan. 20, 2012. The purpose of the meeting was to review goals and objectives of the partnership and remain informed of the respective organization’s activities and projects. This was important since the DVC only met with the park twice a year. In comparison, the Death Valley Natural History Association worked closely with the park on an almost daily basis.
The meeting was held in Ryan Camp and representing the DVC was Chiaro, Golas and Smith. The conservancy showed the park staff their latest work on the railings and described their efforts to match the paint and the wood to what was originally used. The conservancy related that they were working on several projects and expressed interest in several more. They also committed to purchasing the scanner and computer workstation for the park’s curatorial section.
The DVC also explained that they are still waiting to close on the Ryan Camp property and they are partnering with the University of Southern California historic preservation department for work and consultation at Ryan Camp. The new CEO of Rio Tinto Minerals, Xiaoling Liu, would be holding a senior management team meeting in Death Valley March 1, 2012. Other items mentioned were that the fundraising agreement between the DVC and the park was in the NPS Solicitor’s Office and should be forthcoming, and Jessica Smith, the wife of DVC employee Scott Smith, would lead the environmental assessment for the Navel Springs water tank replacement.
Ryan Camp’s water supply comes from a water tank northwest of the camp in Furnace Creek Wash 5 miles away. The water tank is filled by a spring located under a mile up the hill from the water tank. U.S. Borax, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Minerals, held a pre-1914 claim to Navel Spring and was in the process of conveying this claim to the Death Valley Conservancy. Rio Tinto and the Death Valley Conservancy had proposed upgrades to the water collection infrastructure associated with this claim. Before any work could be done the National Park Service had to conduct an environmental assessment to examine associated issues and ensure for the protection of park resources.
Zabriskie Point area in the park April 18, 2012. The purpose of the project was to increase public safety by increasing water storage capabilities for fire suppression and visitor use at Ryan Camp. The project would also remove invasive nonnative plants from the spring area and provide measures to protect from contamination. The project would also facilitate cleaning and maintenance and enhance long term stability of the spring and water system. Public comments would be accepted to May 18, 2012.
The Death Valley Conservancy met with park staff June 25, 2012, at the Death Valley Visitor Center. Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead welcomed the group and mentioned that this was the first meeting in the recently remodeled visitor center multipurpose room. Representing the conservancy was Chiaro, Golas and Smith. Some of the items discussed included planning for a grand opening celebration for the remodeled visitor center in November which would include an appearance of the Twenty Mule Team. The park asked for the conservancy’s help with projects at Scotty’s Castle which included restoring the wishing well and solar water heater.
Smith related that he had been working on small projects at Ryan and gave a tour to park staff and students from the University of Southern California. The conservancy indicated that the transfer of Ryan Camp from Rio Tinto to the DVC was making progress and a new attorney was working on it. There was also a discussion about information requests from various parties regarding the Ryan Camp transfer.
At the meeting park superintendent Sarah Craighead and Death Valley Conservancy president Preston Chiaro signed the fundraising agreement between the National Park Service and the conservancy.
Rio Tinto filed their annual notice of intent to hold the 232 mining claims and mill sites for the assessment year July 23, 2012, in Inyo County, California. This year the notice was signed by Rio Tinto Land Manager Nathan Francis.
The Death Valley Conservancy’s 2011 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the return of organizations exempt from income tax, was signed by Golas Nov. 26, 2012. The conservancy reported a fund balance of $75,805 and total program service expenses of $240,906. The conservancy provided a grant for $56,814 to Death Valley National Park to study and protect the endangered Devil’s Hole pup fish and educate the public to the importance of this species. A second grant for $40,685 was given to the park to support the Death Valley ROCKS program. This program brings inner city students to Death Valley for a three-day camping and field science experience.
The conservancy also listed a $143,407 expense as a program service accomplishment for the preservation and upkeep of the historic mining camp of Ryan. It was also for restoring and use of Ryan for an educational and research facility for members of the public following the donation of the camp to the conservancy by Rio Tinto.
The conservancy also reported receiving personal aggregate cash contributions in the amounts of $5,000 and $25,000. There was also a non-cash contribution of $13,980 received over various dates and a $20,696 non-cash contribution of 450 sleeping bags for the Death Valley ROCKS program. Tax records for The Offield Family Foundation, EIN 36-6066240, in 2010 show a contribution from their organization to the Death Valley Conservancy for $25,000.
During the July 15, 2011, meeting between the conservancy and the park Golas related that Sandra Moore was a new board member. Moore’s name does not appear on the 2011 form 990, but it does list that Kari Krusmark as a director and vice president of the conservancy. Krusmark was an attorney with the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher was also representing the conservancy.
After spending more than three years in Death Valley National Park, superintendent Sarah Craighead left Nov. 4, 2012, to become superintendent of Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. Craighead began her NPS career as a cave guide and campground ranger at Mammoth Cave in 1978. Kelly Fuhrmann, Chief of Resources, at Death Valley National Park was assigned as the interim superintendent.
(Please notify author on the website contact page for errors, omissions or suggestions.)
Information Sources and Credits:
- Copies of reports, documents and electronic media provided by the National Park Service.
- Copies of emails, reports, documents and electronic media obtained from the National Park Service under Freedom of Information Act requests.
- Reference document directory
- California Office of the Attorney General
- California Secretary of State
- Death Valley Natural History Association
- Internal Revenue Service
- Inyo County Clerk-Recorder
- Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology
- Rio Tinto
- San Jose State University Field Studies in Natural History
- Santa Barbara Superior Court