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Camp Verde Bugle | Camp Verde, Arizona

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6/29/2010 3:54:00 PM
Nature Conservancy buys Shield Ranch
Shill family seeks preservation for historic farmland in Camp Verde
VVN/Steve Ayers
The Nature Conservancy has purchased the 306-acre Shield Ranch, located at the confluence of the Verde River and Clear Creek.
VVN/Steve Ayers
The Nature Conservancy has purchased the 306-acre Shield Ranch, located at the confluence of the Verde River and Clear Creek.
During a repair of the ranch’s irrigation pond in the 1950s, Camp Verde resident Walt Murdock’s bulldozer uncovered the first remains of a mastodon ever discovered in the Verde Valley.Courtesy photo
During a repair of the ranch’s irrigation pond in the 1950s, Camp Verde resident Walt Murdock’s bulldozer uncovered the first remains of a mastodon ever discovered in the Verde Valley.

Courtesy photo

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter

CAMP VERDE - Rumors have circulated in the Camp Verde area for a couple years that the Shield Ranch, one of the Verde Valley's first farms, was being sold.

Those rumors were true.

Last Friday, after nearly two years of work, Henry Shill and his nephew Eddie Shill, deeded the 306-acre property to The Nature Conservancy.

Located at the confluence of the Verde River and West Clear Creek, the historic property includes about a half mile of Clear Creek and Verde River frontage and sits a mile and a half upstream from the start of the Wild and Scenic potion of the lower Verde.

Part of the ranch property extends across the Verde River and borders the 209-acre Rockin' River Ranch, which was purchased a couple of years ago by the Nature Conservancy and sold to Arizona State Parks as part of the Verde River Greenway.

The purchase of the Shield Ranch is the latest in TNC's effort to protect and preserve key properties adjoining to the river. To date, they have helped set aside over 6,000 acres along the Verde River, from the headwaters on downstream.

TNC purchases environmentally sensitive properties from willing sellers interested in preserving their lands in perpetuity for the benefit of open space, wildlife and habitat.

According to both Henry and Eddie, the family decided to sell to The Nature Conservancy so the property would remain much as their family kept it.

"We began talking to them when they were buying the Rockin' River Ranch," Eddie Shill says. "We liked how they did things and we liked the idea that the property would be permanently preserved as open space."

"I love this place and didn't want to see it become a bunch of homes," says Henry Shill, who has lived on the property since returning from his job as a civilian contractor in Pearl Harbor during World War II, "They (TNC) were good people to work with and willing to preserve it. That was good enough for me."

Henry's parents, Wright and Lilly Shill, who raised 10 children while living in Mesa, purchased the property in 1944.

Over the years the Shills have run cattle and, for a couple years, farmed alfalfa.

According to Dan Campbell, TNC's Verde Projects director, the Conservancy will continue to lease the property's irrigated fields, on a year-to-year basis, to Miedema Produce, a Waddell, Ariz. company that is currently farming both carrots and radishes on the land.

"We will be working with several partners to determine the property's future. The family has expressed a desire to see the land conserved for its historical as well as natural values. That's what we do best. So whatever we do will be along those lines," Campbell says.

The ranch has played a prominent role in the valley's history, in particular the early settlement.

According to a historical account left by James Swetnam, leader of the first party of Anglo Americans to settle the Verde Valley, the property was first cultivated in the spring of 1865.

The account, published in Edward Farish's History of Arizona, states that two members of the party of 10 men from Prescott left the group as it was digging an irrigation ditch on the north side of Clear Creek.

"...Jake Ramstein and John Lang refused to join with the party, but took out a small ditch on the south side of Clear Creek. The ditch was less than half a mile long and covered about 40 acres of land..."

Ramstein and Lang's ditch eventually became known as Wingfield #4. The land watered by it and the other ditch on the north side of Clear Creek, known today as the Pioneer Ditch, has the oldest water rights in the Verde Valley.

The ranch was also the site of the first military post in the valley. Known officially as the Camp on Clear Fork, the collection of tents served as home to the New Mexico Volunteers, posted there from August through December 1865.

In the 1950s a crew digging a pond on the ranch unearthed a mastodon skeleton, one of only a handful ever discovered in the Verde Valley. Among the parts discovered were a 20-pound tooth, two vertebrae, five ribs and part of a leg bone. The remains were taken to the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Related Stories:
• Editorial: Shield Ranch deal benefits all of Camp Verde

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010
Article comment by: Johnny Montezuma

Great News that we missed back in June. That's a nice thing about someone commenting on a story--it brings it back on the "recent comments" list. Copious kudos to The Shill's and TNC for making this happen. We've known Henry since the mid-80's and we always knew in his heart that he really cared about the land. Dan Campbell is "Da Man" for TNC and doing great stuff. Thanks, Dan, "Ya Dun Good!" And THX to Mr. Ayers for another great piece of professional journalism.

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Article comment by: Meg Dugan

So nice to see some environmental good news. Thank you Henry and Ed Shill for your integrity and foresight.

Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Article comment by: Phobeee Farr

This is great that they supposably want to preserve land. What sucks is how they are finaglein to steal water they have no rights to. they then ruin other peoples land , trees, and live stock doing such. We should not have to suffer because they over plant and use water they have no right to because they over plant. this might save their land. It sure dont save ours. why dont someone right an article on that.

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Article comment by: Janet Loy

Bravo to the Shill's family! It is very satisfying to hear of such a contribution to preserving riparian areas and the historic ranches of the VV.

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Article comment by: JAMES BISHOP, JR


Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Article comment by: Linda Wolfe Buchanan

In selling the Shield Ranch to the Nature Conservancy, the Shill's have given an immeasureable gift to the entire community, region and state. A huge debt of gratitude is owed the Shill family. Your fortitude, foresight, and philanthropy are much appreciated.

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Article comment by: Mr. Geoff

Excellent. Keep it away from tract home developers. It would be nice to have the Nature Conservancy build a guest ranch with lodging for visitors to the area. Sure beats those drab chain motels on 260. I've been around the states and abroad enough to realize that there is a definite allure to experience the ranch/cowboy life. We need a magnet destination, we need a venue that differentiates from Cottonwood's old town and the red rocks of Sedona. We need some large retail commercial development along 260. The Casino, Out of Africa, the vehicle dealerships, and the fort are not enough to increase the towns reputation and tax revenue.

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Article comment by: Win Hjalmarson

Many thanks to the Shill's, TNC and Dan Campbell. TNC has made several significant land acquisitions along the Verde River that will help preserve the natural character of the watershed.

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