Despite Val Kilmer's green inclinations, it appears that it's taken an oil executive to truly rehabilitate the 5,328-acre Pecos River Ranch.


Kilmer sold his beloved property, just outside of Santa Fe, N.M., last October after trying for years to find the right buyer. At one point listed for $33 million in 2009, it was eventually scooped by Benjamin A. Strickling III — a Texas oil exec — for the discounted price of $18.5 million. As part of the deal, Kilmer retained 141 acres for his personal use.


This past summer, locals feared the worst for the land after construction crews and a large number of vehicles descended upon the ranch. After rumors swirled that the river was being dammed and a large airstrip was being built, Strickling contacted reporters to dismiss those claims and unveil his plans for Pecos. 


“Since purchasing the Pecos River Ranch, we hear from time to time rumors about airstrips under construction to buildings and tearing down bridges and the like,” the statement begins. “These rumors have no merit. To hear recently about building a dam on the Pecos River is consistent with previous silliness. Simply put, we are building a trout fishing ranch second to none,” the statement says. “To make this happen, we’ve undertaken programs to enhance the river and to attract the wildlife that once roamed these lands in abundance.”


Since purchasing the property in October, Strickling says he’s thinned 1,200 acres of overgrown woodland to regenerate the native, shrinking meadows, reseeded natural grasses, and partnered with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust to ”preserve a significant portion of the ranch.”


A large 11,296-square-foot ranch house is being built on the property — but that’s not much different from the 11,573-square-foot behemoth Kilmer already had in place. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulatory specialist added that Strickling’s construction crews are also engaged in ”a small amount of bank stabilization, reinstalling stream crossings to ensure they have less water quality impact and some fish habitat restoration.” The oil exec is also repairing and/or rebuilding roads leading to the river to reduce erosion and sediment load carried to the river.


While Strickling is certainly developing the ranch, it's nothing compared to the ambitious plans that Kilmer had in mind. 


The actor's original business plan was to develop high-priced homes, constructed with indigenous materials (adobe, wood and stone for natural insulation and heat), and featuring solar panels and a windmill system. Each house would be required by its “members” to have its own government-certified organic garden; its fruits would go to a co-op.

“It says something that almost 100 percent of the people who come here just feel good,” he said in a 2006 interview. ”There’s a right-ness to developing a community that interacts with the local one. I have to develop it because otherwise, it’s really wasting the land.”


It's good to see that Strickling doesn't consider conservation a waste of resources. Let's hope his investment in Pecos strengthens its environmental contributions and protects the area for decades to come. 


Check out a local news video on the construction at the Pecos River Ranch below.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Oil exec upgrading Val Kilmer's former eco-ranch
Benjamin A. Strickling III says he's working to rehabilitate the land and improve conservation to turn the Pecos River Ranch into a world-class trout fishing de