I-Team: Pickens Moving Forward With Horse Sanctuary - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Pickens Moving Forward With Horse Sanctuary

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LAS VEGAS -- Thousands of travel agents and executives from all over the world are in Las Vegas this week for the International Pow Wow trade show, in which the industry learns about new and exciting travel destinations.

One of the hottest attractions unveiled this year is a Nevada-based eco-sanctuary created to celebrate one of the most iconic images of the American West -- the wild horse.

For the past six years or so, the I-Team has chronicled the efforts of Madeleine Pickens to build a one-of-a-kind sanctuary for wild horses, a place where visitors could see mustangs in their natural environment, learn about the horses and their place in American history.

Her opponents, including the Bureau of Land Management, have made Pickens jump through every imaginable hoop, but she's forged ahead. Her mustang monument is now ready to accept visitors, and at the Pow Wow show, people from all over the world were lining up to hear more.

The cowgirls working booth 1609 at the Pow Wow show haven't exactly had to lasso passers-bys. Their joint has been jumping. A travel agent from Sweden, like so many of her counterparts from all over the globe, was mesmerized by video images of wild horses stampeding across the Nevada range.

"We've been inundated and swamped with people from all over the world," Pickens said. "China, Canada, England, Sweden."

A businesswoman and philanthropist, Pickens has spent six years and close to $14 million on her dream project, the Mustang Monument, a high-class eco-sanctuary in Elko County that is already home to 600 wild horses, saved by Pickens from a trip to the slaughterhouse.

Pickens, a horse lover, had the idea that one way to save the dwindling herds of wild horses roaming Nevada public lands is to turn them into a tourist attraction, so she bought two sprawling cattle ranches encompassing more than half a million acres of private and public land, and has transformed the properties into a self-sustaining, first-class boutique attraction where guests would have the option of staying in plush teepees and have every chance to admire an enduring symbol of the Old West, the wild horses, in the same lands where the first horses on the planet evolved.

At the massive Pow Wow travel gathering, Pickens' pitch to travel agents proved to be a big hit. Last year, Pickens was part of a tourism delegation to China. The Chinese, it turns out, are fascinated by the American West, especially the mustangs.

At the travel show, travel agents from Asia, Europe, and South America promised to book tours starting next year, an economic shot in the arm for Nevada, and a potential solution to one of the most screwed-up programs in all of government.

The BLM spends more than $70 million per year to round up horses that most likely don't need to be gathered, and then store them in subsidized corrals for the rest of their lives where the public never sees them. Pickens told the BLM years ago she would buy enough range to handle all of the 30,000 horses held by the government.

The BLM has yet to allow her even a single horse for the eco-sanctuary and has thrown up every imaginable roadblock to the sanctuary plan, while the roundups continue unabated.

"Instead of shipping them out to another state, why not let them stay in Nevada?" Pickens said. "I've shown them the money. It all goes into my foundation. So they must see I'm sincere. There's nothing in it for me except for emptying my pocketbook every night."

Mustang Monument is having its soft opening this summer but will be ready for waves of foreign visitors next year. The BLM, which has supposedly managed the lands around her eco-sanctuary for decades, says it can't approve the release of any wild horses on public lands until it completes a two-year study, assuming it doesn't find a reason to kill the plan outright.

Pickens said she is moving forward with or without the BLM's permission, using the mustangs she bought on land she owns.

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