"I was laying in bed when it popped into my head," Curtis said. "We don't need another golf course- we need a wildlife preserve."
In 2008, after the economy tanked, Curtis parted ways with Kiley Ranch Communities. But his dream lives on.
Months earlier, the city of Sparks received an offer of Kiley Ranch land to develop a golf course in the south-central Spanish Springs Valley. The city didn't take the offer and it was withdrawn by the Kiley family, Curtis said. He then proposed the wildlife preserve concept to his boss L. David Kiley.
The response was positive according to Curtis. The Kiley Ranch Communities website describes "an environmentally-sensitive and resource-conservative master planned community". Wildlife conservation would fit the plan.
"We moved forward from there," Curtis said. "The family needs to get credit for supporting this kind of community resource- an environmental preserve the whole community can enjoy for years."
The 215 acres of former ranch land looks unimpressive from a distance. From Vista Boulevard, commuters see an empty field with run-down fencing, weeds, and crusty white alkaline dirt.
Further exploration the reveals a hidden birders' paradise. Shielded from the road by reeds and bullrushes are man-made ponds created "in the old days" by the Kiley family- probably for duck-hunting and fishing, Curtis said. Now, the wetland shelters colonies of winged and four-footed residents and is a rest stop for migratory birds said Tina Nappe, wildlife co-chair for the Sierra Club. Traffic noise is muffled by a chorus of birds and bullfrogs.
"It's a little oasis in the middle of an urbanizing area," Curtis said. "You can't see it from Vista or Pyramid."
AN ODD PARTNERSHIP
Curtis, a developer, and Nappe, a conservationist, are members of the Board of Directors for the Kiley Ranch Preservancy Foundation. The non-profit group is working to develop the first public nature park in Spanish Springs to be named the Kiley Ranch Wildlife Wetland Preserve. The board is a diverse group of hydrologists, geologists, planners, architects, wildlife and environmental experts, Curtis said.
"We share a common goal- preservation of the wetlands."
Land and water rights for the preserve have been aquired. A state open space grant and the Kiley family's donation of half the property's value enabled the wetland purchase.
Water sources include the North Truckee Drain, reclaimed water from the city of Sparks and run-off from surrounding communities, Curtis said. Wetlands serve as a natural filter for urban and agricultural pollution, he added.
"I'm trying to preserve wetlands in Nevada," Nappe said. "We've lost 80 percent (of wetlands) to agriculture and urbanization."
The next major step is raising the dough," Curtis said. He estimates the foundation needs $400,000 for planning, management and infrastructure. A trail system, interpretive signs and bird observation decks are planned.
The foundation received a corporate donation of $5,000 from Wells-Fargo Bank but Curtis said he's looking for donations of any amount.
"I want as broad a public ownership (of the preserve) as possible because then people will take care of it," he explained.
A DAUNTING TASK
The maze of government regulations and permits involved to complete the project would intimidate most but, as a developer, Curtis said he's used to the long haul.
"The number of agencies- it's mind-boggling."
Besides bureaucracy, the ranch itself presents challenges. The irrigation system needs care and maintenance, plants and animal species must be evaluated. Non-native plants must be eradicated before they choke out native species.
"We've got an invasive weed- tall whitetop,", Curtis said. "The problem is, it's not a natural environment. It requires management to preserve it."
A resident butterfly named the Carson Wandering Skipper is listed as endangered and under scrutiny by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Armed with binoculars, Nappe spotted and identified the species of ducks, pelicans, egrets, herons and song birds at the wetlands north of Sparks early Wednesday.
"We can use this as a natural laboratory- for eagle scouts and grade school field trips," Curtis said. "I'd love to have the community enjoy the natural environment- people need this."
For more information on the preserve foundation, go to www.kileyranch.com