- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2016

CROFTON, Neb. (AP) - Little did Monda Kohles know that when she sneaked into an abandoned building in Devils Nest some 30 years ago, her clandestine camping trip would lead to the passion she now has to revive a failed effort to capitalize on the area’s beauty for a recreation and housing development.

That passion has helped put Devils Nest back on the map, and the tree-lined ridges and valleys of this scenic land hugging the bluffs overlooking Lewis and Clark Lake are beginning to see building activity that many thought would never happen again after an ambitious development plan failed nearly 50 years ago, the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/2bemgDb ) reported.

Five homes have been built in the past two years. Eight homes are in the planning stages and two are under construction. Little pink flags mark several lots on which construction is expected to begin soon. Three builders are planning spec homes.

“I’m a die-hard Devils Nest fan. I’m really ecstatic to see it taking off,” Kohles said. “It is really neat to see it come back to life.”

Kohles and five other partners bought nearly 600 acres here in 2008, and after spending seven years learning the ins and outs of planning, zoning and other phases of development, Kohles, the managing member of Devils Nest II LLC, saw interest pick up after a marketing push began in 2015.



It’s a turn of fortunes for Devils Nest after the initial development project went belly-up in the 1970s.

Devils Nest Development Co. went public in the 1960s with a $10 million idea to turn 3,000 acres northwest of Crofton into a private, year-round resort and housing development with a 25-story hotel, ski and hunting lodge, campgrounds, golf course, marina, bridle path and tennis courts.

Ground was broken in 1970 on what was then billed as a $100 million development. By 1972, the ski run and lodge were open, the yacht club and equestrian center, plus eight houses, had been built.

That momentum didn’t last long, as financial troubles soon ended the project. By 1977, the property was sold at auction to satisfy judgments. Later owners floated plans to renew the development, but nothing ever made it past the planning stages. Over the years, some of the land was sold off to neighbors.

The ski lift, chairs still dangling from the cables, was left behind, a rusting monument to the grand plans. The yacht club and ski lodge slowly deteriorated.

But some area residents never stopped believing that it might someday make it. Bruce Hegge, who lived with his wife, Mary, 14 miles away, brought his children to the area to go fishing. He’d drive through the twisting roads, enjoying views of the lake and hills to relieve stress.

“I thought it would (come back) because it was such a neat place,” said Hegge.

He and Mary have lived here since December in a new home that offers a stunning 360-degree view of the lake and surrounding hills.

“See the deer there?” Mary said, pointing at a buck walking across the road running through a valley below their home. “That’s why we love it.”

Mary now sits on the Knox County Sanitary Improvement District No. 2 board that maintains the Devils Nest infrastructure and helps oversee new construction.

“We just kind of feel like we’re on our own little spot,” she said. “I’m not surprised people are interested.”

Much of that interest traces back to Kohles’ love of the area. Born in Iceland, Kohles was still fairly new to the Midwest after moving to the United States as a teenager after her mother married an American.

In the early 1980s, Kohles, made that camping trip with four friends, sneaking into the abandoned yacht club to spend the night. She visited Devils Nest again 10 years later and fell in love with the beauty — and the possibilities.

“This is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Nebraska,” Kohles said.

The abandoned buildings and failed plans intrigued her, and she began dreaming of owning the land, bringing those plans back to life.

After she and her partners bought the remaining 598 acres eight years ago, Kohles immersed herself in the history of the area and scaled back the development, consolidating 2,400 tiny lots into 250 lots that offer potential owners more room on which to build while still making use of the original roads and infrastructure.

Plots of various sizes are available for permanent residences, summer homes or cabins for weekend getaways.

“It’s not going to be nearly what the original developers wanted it to be,” said Kohles, who will soon begin building a home with her husband here.

She believes the original developers tried to do too much all at once rather than in stages.

“I feel if they would have focused on the marina more back then, it would have been a success,” she said. “I’ve always just had the vision of how I want it to be.”

Already on site are several miles of trails to ride horses and ATVs.

Soon, Kohles hopes to see development of an 87-slip marina. Plans are completed, and all but one of the permits needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been secured.

Kohles also plans to upgrade an existing boat ramp and develop the area around it into a sandy beach.

The ski lodge has been sold, and the ski lift and runs are too impractical and costly to ever reopen, Kohles said, though she’d like to build a deck and a monument around the lift terminal at the top of a ridge that offers sweeping views of the area.

To top off the new development, Kohles hopes to someday restore the yacht club, now badly weathered, into a restaurant and museum featuring northeast Nebraska history. Devils Nest, she believes, could tap into that history along with its natural beauty and wildlife to attract tourists.

“To me, historic Devils Nest is a vital piece of history in northeast Nebraska,” she sad.

A piece of history that, after past failures, appears to be headed for a bright future.

___

Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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