If their plan goes through, they won't change the name, but they'll change the fillies.
Bureau of Land Management officials in Nevada want to take control of the legendary brothel called the Mustang Ranch, reopen it as a visitor center and use the surrounding 320 acres for a new National Wild Horse and Burro Center.
The Mustang Ranch property was forfeited to the federal government this summer after guilty verdicts against the ranch's corporate owner in a fraud and racketeering trial. Federal authorities said it could be at least a year before the government decides what to do with the property, because the corporate parent has filed motions for a new trial.
But the prospect of a lengthy delay has not diminished the enthusiasm at the Bureau of Land Management, which operates its nationally famous wild horse adoption program on a 160-acre ranch in Palomino Valley, about 20 miles north of Reno.
About 170,000 tourists trek to the valley each year for a glimpse of the American West. From June through February, the bureau rounds up thousands of wild horses, gives them medical checkups and offers them for adoption throughout the nation. Since 1973, about 175,000 wild horses have been adopted by farmers, ranchers and children.
But the bureau's Palomino Valley center consists of a small building with inadequate toilet facilities for the horse lovers. "We would like a better place for visitors," said Maxine Shane, the bureau spokeswoman in Nevada.
When the bureau sent a letter to the U.S. attorney in Las Vegas last month describing its proposal, agency officials knew they would be easy marks for jokes.
Jeff Ackerman, publisher of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, recently wrote in his column that "not in a million years would I have thought to turn a boarded-up bordello into a home for homeless horses."
Ackerman said that the proposal has some merit and that "a good marketing guy" could come up with some clever slogans that would draw visitors to the new ranch, such as:
"Mustang Ranch: Think You Can Tame Us?"
"Mustang Ranch: Boots Are Still Optional."
"Mustang Ranch: This Time We Mean It."
Some local officials have questioned whether the bureau's proposal makes sense, because it would remove the property from the tax rolls. "I see it as a touchy-feely kind of thing to rationalize the federal seizure of county property," Storey County Commission Chairman Chuck Haynes told reporters last week.
But Shane said the proposal could help the bureau administer a 1971 law that protects free-roaming horses and burros that trace their lineage to the days of the Spanish conquistadors, the early American pioneers and the U.S. Cavalry.
The bureau oversees about 100 herd management areas, ranging in size from 70,000 acres to 700,000 acres, in Nevada. The last tally counted about 23,000 horses and burros. Each year, as many as 6,000 horses are gathered at Palomino Valley and put up for adoption there and at bureau facilities in other states.
The Palomino Valley ranch, though, faces the encroachment of subdivisions from Reno. Shane said there is less development around the Mustang Ranch, which is about 15 miles east of Reno.
The bureau estimates it would cost $12.6 million to convert the brothel into a visitor center, build holding pens for horses, provide veterinary services and pave land for parking.
None of this can happen unless the litigation ends, claims for the property are settled and environmental studies are conducted to see if the ranch, opened in 1955, would be suitable as a horse adoption facility.
If the project appears feasible, the bureau expects to seek partnerships with state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and tourism groups to raise money and to create a program for visitors.
"It will take serious funding and commitments from a wide variety of interests," said Bob Abbey, the bureau's Nevada state director.
CAPTION: Mustang Ranch was forfeited to the federal government after its owner was convicted of fraud and racketeering.