Hunters crowd into the Basalt shooting range on a recent autumn day for last-minute practice ahead of elk and deer season. This fall, things look a little different at the range, and not just because of the fire scar that rises behind the targets where hunters take aim.
The Basalt shooting range closed for several months after the Lake Christine Fire ignited there in July. Some in the community didn’t want it to reopen at all, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials said it was essential that hunters have a place to sight in their rifles. So there was a compromise: The range would reopen, but only after some changes.
Perry Will, area wildlife manager for CPW, oversaw recent fire mitigation work. He pointed out the changes: Workers built a large dirt berm and backstop and sprayed some of the surrounding vegetation with an herbicide to clear out potential fuel. There are also now fire extinguishers right behind the benches where hunters are taking aim. But the biggest change is supervision.
"If there's not a range safety officer here on site, the gate gets locked and closed," Will said.
When the gun range reopened in mid-September, it was with the agreement that there would be someone on-site, like Diane Ostrander, office manager of the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsman’s Association. Hunters stood in line behind a card table to sign in, and Ostrander handed out green pamphlets with the range rules.
“It’s just reminders and refreshing,” Ostrander said.
The new sign-in process doesn’t bother Barry Vaughan, who comes here weekly to shoot pistols and shotguns.
“It's good to have somebody just checking people in and checking people out and making sure that they know the rules," Vaughan said.
But time is running out on the safety officers. Though CPW owns and manages the site, the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsman’s Association is providing the supervision. Ostrander said it’s going to cost them more than $10,000 to staff the range for two months, and that’s just not sustainable.
“We’re a non-profit," she said. "We don’t have that kind of money. That’s why we’ve only committed until Nov. 15.”
After that, it’s not clear what will happen. CPW isn't required to provide range supervision, and Will said there just isn’t funding for that in their budget.
“It's a precedent that you've got to watch, because then maybe every range wants it," Will explained.
Will said CPW couldn’t afford making statewide changes, but some Basalt residents like Stacey Craft say safety is exactly where CPW should be spending its money.
"Frankly, CPW owes Basalt big time," she said. "There's got to be a couple million dollars out there to build a safe range."
CPW is in the early stages of convening a steering committee to look into the long-term future of the range. It will include hunters and others who regularly use the range, as well as residents like Craft.
She has a variety of concerns about the range — including many that the recent improvements didn’t address, like unmitigated lead, noise and the size of the current spot. And all those concerns reveal one thing about the gun range:
“That it’s just located in the wrong spot,” Craft said.
Craft says she’s not alone in thinking that the range has outgrown its current location, and CPW’s own website recommends that hunters sight their rifles at both 100 and 200 yards. The Basalt location only allows for 100-yard shots. Craft is confident that the steering committee will find common ground.
“People who live in Basalt really want that range relocated, and sports shooters and sportspeople really want a world-class range, and if we work together to move it some place that's convenient in the mid-valley, we can both get what we want," she said. "We are on the same team, actually."
The steering committee will look at a variety of options, including potential upgrades to the current location. The group will meet through the winter, with the goal of finding a long-term solution before next summer, and the next fire season.