Shooting range

Increasing wildfire-mitigation efforts and having a range safety officer onsite during operational hours were some of the recommendations made to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the Lake Christine gun range.

Increasing wildfire-mitigation efforts, installing surveillance cameras with a storage capacity of 10 days, and having a range safety officer onsite during operational hours are the main short-term recommendations a local citizens’ task force have made to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the Lake Christine gun range. Those recommendations were announced and discussed at a sparsely attended public meeting at Basalt High School on Thursday.

“The premise behind this was to organize a group of concerned citizens that had demonstrated interest in the shooting range, and to get a wide variety of perspectives,” said Matt Yamashita, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). He presided over much of the meeting along with moderator Connor Coleman, a member of the task force.

So how did he think Thursday’s meeting went?

“I thought it was fine. The questions asked were the ones we thought might be asked,” Yamashita said. “Realistically, I wish there would have been a little more public comment and public participation. I know a lot of people have expressed their interest and opinions on this.”

The task force, comprised of residents from Basalt and the surrounding area, includes George Trantow, Bill Kane and Stacey Craft, who did not attend the meeting, and Rob Leavitt, Larry Emery and Charles Spickert. The latter spoke about some of the short- and long-term recommendations they suggested to CPW.

Members of the task force were asked to refrain from revealing private discussions of the group and its actions with members of the public, mass media or social media — and at least one member of the group asked about the legality of being asked to sign such a document. According to Yamashita, that rule was in place when he became acting district wildlife manager, and he said he forwarded the legal question to the Colorado attorney general’s office.

The task force was created after last summer’s fire that broke out on July 3 at the Basalt gun range and consumed nearly 13,000 acres above Basalt, Willits and El Jebel, forced the evacuation of thousands and destroyed three homes. Allison Marcus and Richard Miller were charged with starting the Lake Christine Fire, sparked by Marcus firing a tracer round from a rifle that ignited brush behind a gun target. After numerous felony charges were filed against them, they pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor each and will be sentenced on July 1.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has owned and operated the Basalt gun range since 1940. In 1974, it was more formally developed. Since then, the general public and private shooting groups have used the range to fire pistols, rifles and shotguns. In the opinion of CPW, operating the range keeps gun enthusiasts from firing their weapons in national forests and on lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management. According to Yamashita, approximately 10,000 patrons use the Basalt gun range annually, demonstrating the need for the range.

The task force recommended both short- and long-term solutions on safety and management to CPW, including recommendations that have already been implemented, recommendations that will be implemented this summer and suggestions that must go through a regulatory process with CPW and/or state officials.

The main short-term recommendations were to increase wildfire mitigation, including the removal of vegetation, brush and trees within 75 yards of targets; replace the surface of the range with road-mill material; improve the dirt berms used as backstops behind the targets and between the ranges; create an irrigated green belt that surrounds the range and increase water access and availability, along with extinguishers; hire a range safety officer who will be onsite when the range is open from July to November; and install video surveillance cameras with a 10-day storage capability.

Longer-term solutions include changing the range’s operating hours, investigating alternative locations for the range, and looking at enclosing the range at its present location. Changing the operating hours would require regional and state officials’ approval. The suggested changes conform to three seasons: summer, when the range would be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week; spring/fall, when the range would operate six days a week 7 to 7; and wintertime, when the range would be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. The recommendations from the task force would increase the current hours of operation, which currently limit public shooting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Yamashita said after the meeting that the increased hours came after the task force surveyed local businesses, commercial gun operations and the Basalt Chamber of Commerce. Commercial operators who provide shooting lessons, shooting instruction and shooting courses articulated the need for increased hours, said Yamashita.

In line with the task force’s recommendations, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has pledged $20,000 for the cameras and storage equipment, and has already paid for some of the safety improvements, like wildfire mitigation. They have also committed to paying for a shooting range safety officer from July to November of this year, the busiest time of the year and the one that comes during the highest fire danger.

Future funding for that safety officer and for some of the other recommended suggestions will be determined by regional and state officials, but overall funding for CPW is in good shape, said Dean Riggs, CPW’s deputy regional manager: “This is a high priority for us.”

The safety officer will check in visitors to the shooting range and ensure “they are abiding by all the rules we have established,” Yamashita said.

The town of Basalt does have additional money from their parks and trails fund that could help pay for long-term suggestions, such as enclosing the gun range.

While two meetings drew 200 to 300 participants in August (with a majority of them in favor of keeping the range open), this week’s meeting had fewer than 30 members of the public, along with about a dozen state wildlife officers, local police, sheriff and fire officials.

Some in attendance were critical of CPW, the task-force process and the recommendations because similar ones were made by citizens in 2008 and 2010, and were not implemented.

Mike Luciano was a member of the advisory board that drafted a resolution in 2010 to have the range closed on Sundays, hire a safety officer and conduct environmental studies. A second resolution in 2010 amending the original resolution’s Sunday closure kept the range open on weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and eliminated the range safety officer position.

“The resolution was ignored, and the range remained open seven days a week,” said Luciano. “Now, CPW tells us the result of a six-month task force is to increase hours of operation at the range to 12 hours a day, seven days a week during the summer? This is insulting to our community.

“Gunshots heard on three school campuses and in our downtown churches is unacceptable.”

Basalt resident Mike Kerr agreed: “Seven days a week open with Old Town sounding like a war zone? They keep saying there isn’t enough money. So why don’t they charge a user fee? They keep talking about the community, which is not the town of Basalt. It is the gun community they represent!”

The town and CPW did partner in 2010 to spend $200,000 on a noise study, and afterward a sound enclosure around the firing-line areas. But other elements of the 2010 resolution have not been enacted, such as an environment study of heavy metals at the site and study of the location of the trap- and skeet-shooting areas to see whether it should be reoriented to direct sound away from downtown Basalt. That noise study will be done this summer, according to CPW’s Yamashita.

CPW has stated its intent to evaluate the recommendations and discuss them with regional and state officials as they move forward with management of the Basalt gun range. Yamashita closed the meeting by noting that any public comments about the recommendations or the process could be sent to him at: matt.yamashita@state.co.us.