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Regional solution sought for increased recreational sport shooting in National Forest

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Meetings with citizens are first step

By Lynn Volkens

For several years, the Gilpin County commissioners have been exploring the possibility of developing a shooting range where law enforcement and private citizens can go to target shoot. Safety concerns have driven many of the shooting range discussions at the commissioners’ table, including issues with residents shooting on their own land without adequate backstops, and problems with people coming into Gilpin to shoot in the National Forest. Gilpin County and other areas containing forest lands have seen an increase in use for target shooting, conflicts arising from that use with other forest land uses such as hiking, and safety issues from private landowners whose properties abut forest lands. Recently Gilpin County joined Boulder, Clear Creek and Larimer counties, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to form the Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting (RSS) Management Partnership. On July 11, 2013, representatives from several of these organizations joined Gilpin County commissioners in an open house at the Community Center to talk about the opportunities of building shooting ranges in the four counties. Approximately fifty people attended.

Although recreational shooting is an allowed use of National Forest lands, not all areas of the forest are appropriate for that use. RSS members are looking to develop a regional strategy for how to decide where to put potential ranges, the types of ranges needed and how to pool resources to make them become a reality. The open house last Thursday evening is a first step in what will likely be a year to year-and-a-half long process.  The RSS is not evaluating specific sites at this time, but had large maps of Gilpin County which identified areas on public lands where target shooting is taking place now. (Several more areas were identified by citizens attending the meeting.) The maps also identified areas that might meet one or more of the following suggested site location criteria: one mile from any municipality; ½ mile from any subdivision or townsite; ¼ mile from any residential home; ¼ mile from any recreationally developed area (such as hiking trails and campgrounds); ¼ mile from any communication towers; and, preferably, with a slope of 10% or less. Accessibility to the site will also play a part in where a range may be located. The criteria have not been finalized and there are additional secondary criteria under consideration.

The goal is to have multiple ranges, hopefully free of charge. There will need to be some management of the ranges and funding must be pursued for that as well as construction. The simplest shooting range would be outdoors with bermed sides and backstops. That range could be developed by building a covered area for the shooters or, with a highly developed facility, the range would be entirely indoors. Funding may be available through hunter education, wildlife management and grant resources. Tom Ford of the U.S. Forest Service said there would likely be a need to do a significant amount of management, especially initially. Gilpin’s sheriff’s deputies and local hikers have reported finding trees shot up and inappropriate items being used as targets, including items such as television sets. (It is illegal to use electronic items for target practice.) Developing ranges, especially if there is no charge to use them, is meant to encourage recreational shooters to stop the practice of simply finding a spot on forest land and firing away. However, except in posted areas prohibiting shooting, the practice can continue even after the ranges are built. Nor will building designated ranges prevent recreational shooters from shooting on private land. It used to be, he said, that the counties would ask the Forest Service, “What are you going to about your problem (shooting)? But this problem does not reside on Forest Service lands – it’s coming in from outside. So, it’s ‘our’ problem.” There is currently a lot of interest, and political will, said Ford, in incorporating recreational shooting ranges into the Forest Service plan.

Participating in the RSS partnership doesn’t mean that counties can’t move forward on developing their own solutions to recreational shooting needs. Gilpin County has identified two areas where officials feel ranges could be located. One is off Tolland Road a few miles from Rollinsville; the other is in the area where the Gilpin County line meets that of Jefferson and Clear Creek Counties. The Gilpin County Planning Department is currently pursuing grant funding to put toward the construction of a range.

RSS has information available online at www.facebook.com/SportShootingPartners and www.twitter.com/NFRRSSMP. Gilpin County hopes to add the maps used at the open house to their website www.co.gilpin.co.us in the future, but until then they will have the maps available for review at the Community Development/Planning Department at the Courthouse in Central City. Meetings have been held in Larimer, Gilpin and Clear Creek Counties. A final meeting is scheduled in Boulder County on July 23, 2013. For more information contact the RSS Project Coordinator, Garry Sanfacon, at 720-564-2642 or info@SportShootingPartners.org.

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