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Less than a year after he bought his first leases, Bolack sold a block of them to an oil company for 520,000 and a 5% royalty. He drilled his first well in the San Juan Basin in 1953, and then went on to drill 14 straight producers. In 1958 he sold leases on 560 acres to Standard Oil for $3 million plus royalties. Today he still holds leases on more than 100,000 acres in the San Juan Basin, Alaska and Montana, and has interests in 140 oil wells and a variety of businesses, including a small airline, travel agency, uranium firm, shopping center, gypsum plant, four banks, a baseball club and a ski resort.
Bolack's political fortune also began in the San Juan Basin. In 1952 he was elected mayor of Farmington, a town that at the time had 3,500 residents and 20 feet of paved road. Bolack immediately set about changing things—adding roads, an airport and new businesses. But what the region needed most was the water of the Colorado River and its numerous tributaries. Bolack, as chairman of the Aqualantes, a four-state citizens' crusade, launched an exhausting oratorical campaign that extended from Arizona to Washington, D.C. His efforts resulted in passage of the Upper Colorado Bill and the establishment of a network of power and irrigation projects that dramatically changed the agriculture and economy of the four-state region.
In 1960, after serving in the New Mexico legislature, Bolack ran for lieutenant governor and was the first Republican in 32 years to be elected to that office. He became governor—and held office for only two months—after Governor Edwin Mecham resigned to fill a Senate vacancy.
"He enjoyed every minute of it," a newsman recalls. "He'd sit back in his chair, put his feet and a bottle on the big desk and invite us all in to swap stories. The guys ate it up. He may have been the shortest-term governor in the state, but he was certainly one of the most popular."
When Bolack began his B-Square Ranch in 1957, his wealth was already such that it would have purchased the richest land in the state. Instead he chose 350 acres of what was probably the poorest.
"I wanted to prove a point," Bolack says. And he did. By draining, leveling and irrigating those original 350 acres, he managed to put 250 of them into cultivation. By bulldozing and banking the San Juan River, he cut back erosion, prevented the uprooting of hundreds of trees and reclaimed land that had hitherto been useless.
On this land he has produced, in addition to the Navajo willows, more than 100 varieties of vegetables that year after year have taken top prizes at the New Mexico State Fair, proving to his neighbors and the world that one does not have to start with the best farmland to grow the best produce. "One of the main goals at B-Square," Bolack says, "has been to teach the Navajos in the area not what a millionaire can do but what they themselves are capable of and can afford to do. When they see rich green growth where there was once gray waste, they know that they can make their own gray lands green, too."
Bolack's efforts have not been limited to greenery. Over the years he has converted his ranch, now grown to 3,000 acres, into a vast wildlife sanctuary. He drained swamps, created an 85-acre artificial lake and built dozens of nesting islands for waterfowl. On land, he left unharvested countless stands of grain and corn to provide food and cover for the chukars, guinea fowls, coots and Canada geese that he brought in and released there. These were soon joined by pheasants, quail, doves and ducks, for which more than a ton of ranch-grown grain is scattered daily as part of the feeding program. This past winter more than 25,000 waterfowl wintered at the B-Square. The ranch, on which Bolack prohibits hunting, is now a regular stop on annual wildfowl migrations.
"We cannot go on taking from the land without putting something back. That is what this is all about," Bolack says, surveying the green, game-filled expanses of his ranch. "Everything here tells part of the story about what can be done with land when it is used wisely and well."
Bolack has devoted most of his energies in past years to trying to make people listen. He has, at his own expense, run hundreds of ads in state and national media urging the multiple use and development of the country's natural resources. His ranch, its main house, trophy rooms, greenhouses, lakes and fields are open to the public at no charge, and each year close to 20,000 visitors, many of them schoolchildren, come to see for themselves what the Bolack brand of practical conservation is all about. He is a tireless speaker, winging from city to city across the nation, planting trees like a latter-day Johnny Appleseed and entreating cub scouts, civic societies, college students, sportsmen and schoolchildren to give back to the earth some of what has been taken from it.