By Eli Segall Las Vegas Review-Journal September 4, 2021 – 5:44 pm
CAL-NEV-ARI — The roads kick up dirt, the airstrip isn’t paved, and the only store in town offers such items as milk, beer, some vegetables and, marked at half-price for $2.50 each, music cassette tapes.
After not changing much for years, tiny Cal-Nev-Ari and its cluster of residents off the side of the highway face the prospect of something very different for the remote desert town: a burst of development.
Universal Green Technology, majority owner of mining firm Heart of Nature, has purchased just over 550 acres of mostly vacant real estate off U.S. Highway 95 some 70 miles south of Las Vegas, acquiring the bulk of Cal-Nev-Ari.
The $8 million sale, by town co-founder Nancy Kidwell, closed in late July, property records show.
Heart of Nature supplies the agricultural industry and won’t do mining in Cal-Nev-Ari. But it has big plans for a pint-sized community that relies on well water and is heavy on retirees and mobile homes.
All told, locals have mixed reactions to the possible activity. Residents told the Review-Journal they would welcome more visitors and commerce to the rural, unincorporated community, though some are nervous about other possible changes after Kidwell, who is in her 80s and seems to know everyone here, sold her holdings after years of trying.
“It’s definitely gonna change the atmosphere I think around here, and I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited to see what happens,” said Destiny Hughes, manager of the 10-room Blue Sky Motel.
She indicated that only two rooms are taken per day, and some real estate development could help fill the place.
“Honestly, it’d help my workload,” she said.
‘Always a fear of change’
Heart of Nature President Jerry Tyler, who lives in Henderson, says his group plans to build a 100,000-square-foot warehouse that will hold granulating machines that make its products. The facility would be across the highway from Cal-Nev-Ari’s homes and would not produce foul odors, he said, noting the processing involves tree sap and almost smells like it’s baking bread.
He envisions building more restaurants, a larger hotel and homes for staffers who work at the facility. His group also wants to pave the airstrip to attract more pilots.
Tyler said in a recent interview that residents’ initial reaction to the sale — reported Aug. 19 by the Review-Journal — was “fear, because there’s always a fear of change.”
His group acquired hundreds of acres of land, the airstrip, an RV park and a mobile home park, with the town’s only motel, convenience store, and casino and restaurant building.
“Everyone here was concerned because they’re used to Nancy,” he said.
But his group wants to make Cal-Nev-Ari “a better place for everybody,” won’t replace the workers here with a new crew and will keep and enhance all the businesses, he said.
Tyler said that he is giving out his business card and asking people to call if they think he’s making anything worse and that locals are “starting to warm up to us.”
“The people that I’m meeting have been great,” he said. “I just haven’t had a chance to meet everybody yet.”
Convenience store clerk Robin Williford, who lives in the RV park, believes most people here don’t know what’s going to happen now that Kidwell’s sale went through, and she has heard some people are scared they will lose their jobs.
But she said she thinks the owners’ plans are “great,” as the activity could bring more people and attention to the town.
“I don’t think a lot of people know that we’re really here,” Williford said.
Bartender Connie Meyerring said she not only works for the town matriarch but also has been renting a home from her, too, and she’s worried about her job and her home.
Still, she figures if Heart of Nature’s venture sparks more activity, it could be a good thing.
“If it brings business to the community, that’s fine,” Meyerring said.
Milne “CC” Pocock, a South Africa native who lives in Cal-Nev-Ari, operates a flight training school here called Bush Air, which specializes in backcountry flying. He has three Cessna aircraft at his property, which, like many other homes here, is right across from the airstrip.
He said the sale could be “a good thing,” adding the new owners seem highly motivated to upgrade the town. Pocock also pointed to Cal-Nev-Ari’s aviation roots and hopes the buyers “build that up and promote that.”
“Pilots don’t even know about this town,” he said.
But he worries about his own future if the airstrip – formally known as Kidwell Airport, albeit an airport without terminals, a control tower, or even a fence around it – is paved.
His business is built on taking off from, and landing on, unpaved surfaces, and Cal-Nev-Ari is “perfect” for him, as it offers uncontrolled airspace and vast stretches of open desert nearby.
If the airstrip is paved, he said, “I won’t be able to run my business here anymore.”
“I would have to move,” Pocock said.
Tyler said it would be “a while” before the airstrip is paved, an undertaking that would require plenty of permitting, financing and engineering.
But his group wants more types of planes to land here amid its plans to boost the population and add more services such as grocery stores and supply shops.
“We think the airport can really contribute to that,” Tyler said.
Kidwell and late husband Everette “Slim” Kidwell founded Cal-Nev-Ari in the mid-1960s, having noticed its then-abandoned airstrip while flying by.
They acquired 600-plus acres from the federal government, named the town after its home state and the two nearby, and, as the Los Angeles Times reported, put in a sign that declared: “Cal-Nev-Ari, Population: 4. Watch Us Grow.”
The other two residents were their cat and their dog.
By 2010, 244 people lived in Cal-Nev-Ari, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to reports, Slim, a flight instructor, was 34 years older than Nancy and died in 1983. A decade later, she married Verne “Ace” Kidwell, Slim’s son from a prior marriage, who was 14 years older than Nancy and who died in 2011.
The father and son were buried in a small, fenced plot in Cal-Nev-Ari, with space between them for one more.
“There’s plenty of room for me,” Kidwell once said.
Tyler said that Universal Green Technology was a customer of his before it acquired a majority stake in Heart of Nature, and the people behind the company knew he wanted to set up processing operations in Nevada.
Heart of Nature mines and crushes minerals outside Tonopah and trucks them to Bakersfield, California, for processing. Under California law, Tyler said, the firm can haul up to 25 tons of cargo through the state without a special permit, but in Nevada, it can haul up to 43 tons.
Universal Green heard about Cal-Nev-Ari, wanted to buy Kidwell’s real estate and picked Tyler to come down and help “digest” the purchase and do some planning because he lives closest, he said.
Before the purchase, Tyler said, he had driven by Cal-Nev-Ari and thought it was “kind of cool.” He also believes he may have pulled in for the same reason as other travelers who come upon the speck of a town in the middle of the desert.
“I might have stopped here to use the restroom or something,” he said.