gun range signs

Signs installed recently near the entrance to the Basalt shooting range point out the facility’s winter hours. The range, where the Lake Christine Fire originated, is now closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

A six-member task force of citizens will study issues surrounding the Basalt shooting range — where the Lake Christine Fire was ignited on July 3 — over the next six months.

The volunteer group held its first meeting Thursday at the Basalt Town Council’s meeting room. Discussion so far has been preliminary, and it’s too early to say whether the group will examine options for relocating the range, according to Mike Porras, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which oversees the facility.

Porras attended the inaugural meeting, as did CPW area wildlife manager Perry Will. The task force is expected to gather monthly in Basalt, and meeting locations may vary.

“As we enter this process, everything is open for discussion,” Porras said Friday. “Nothing is off the table. We’re not going to say that moving the range is not an option, we’re not going to say it is an option. The committee is going to do what it needs to do, and what the final result will be has yet to be determined.”

All six task force members are Roaring Fork Valley residents, two of whom live in Basalt. The volunteers are: Stacey Craft, Larry Emery, Bill Kane, Rob Leavitt, Charlie Spickert and George Trantow, according to CPW emails.

Craft, a real estate adviser with Engel & Volkers, and Emery, representing the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen’s Association — which operates the private shooting facility next to CPW’s public gun range  in Basalt — emerged during the summer as leading voices on opposing sides of the gun-range debate. As the Lake Christine Fire burned in the midvalley in July, CPW hosted two community meetings at Basalt High School, where dozens of advocates for and against relocating the shooting range offered their opinions.

The meetings drew hundreds of participants, the vast majority of who were in favor of reopening the Basalt shooting range, which was closed immediately after the fire started. More than 12,500 acres, most of it backcountry brush land, burned, including three houses, over a three-month period.

The range reopened in mid-September before the fire was fully contained in early October.

Craft spoke mainly about the need for studies to determine the levels of lead toxicity at and near the gun range, where creeks and ditches drain to the Roaring Fork River. Emery stressed the desire to reopen the range so that hunters could sight in their rifles in time for fall hunting seasons instead of taking their firearms out into public wilderness to practice.

Other concerns expressed by those for and against the reopening of the range included the increase in dispersed shooting on other public lands, youth groups left without a safe place to practice, the impacts of gun noise on quiet neighborhoods and improved fire-safety mitigation measures at the facility, which is located on state recreational property.

Drought conditions in late spring and early summer provided the dry natural fuels that caused the Lake Christine Fire to spread rapidly. Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, accused of allegedly igniting the blaze with illegal tracer bullets at the range, face felony arson charges.

Porras said the task force will hear from experts and others who will provide information about various aspects of the Basalt range and shooting facilities in general. The volunteer committee will advise CPW at the end of the six-month meeting period about long-term improvements and regulations, as well as the question of whether the range ought to be relocated away from Basalt.

The makeup of the committee is diverse, Porras said. “One of the goals CPW had was to bring a wide variety of interests to the table,” he said.

Will said that after reopening in September the range flourished for a couple of months. It was staffed by trained range safety officers supplied by the sportsman’s association. Operating hours were scaled back, and instead of being open seven days per week as it was before the fire, the range closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Prior to reopening, CPW rebuilt and elevated the backstop of the range to provide a larger area to stop bullets that miss their mark. The state agency, with help from Eagle County government, also removed vegetation that potentially could be sparked.

Will said those on both sides of the relocation debate are hoping for a positive outcome from the committee meetings.

“We just want to work though the process and do the best we can to make good decisions about the future of the range,” he said.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.