CPW pursues fire mitigation at Basalt shooting range

Operations during fire restrictions still raise issues

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is pursuing additional safety improvements at the Basalt Shooting Range but does not plan any operational changes this year if drought and fire danger grow.

CPW area wildlife manager Matt Yamashita told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night that CPW moved heavy equipment onto the Basalt State Wildlife Area earlier in the day for fire mitigation. A bulldozer and heavy excavator will widen and clear an old road that was used years ago to install power lines. The road will fill a dual role of providing a firebreak and access to the upper reaches of state lands for emergency responders. The road is upslope from the pistol, rifle and shotgun ranges.

The work this year will be the second phase of three years’ worth of work, Yamashita said. Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Thompson recommended the improvements in the aftermath of the Lake Christine Fire in July 2018. The fire threatened Basalt, El Jebel and part of Missouri Heights and forced widespread evacuations. Three homes were destroyed. The fire started at the shooting range when two people illegally shot incendiary bullets.

Thompson’s vision is to create a firebreak and an irrigated greenbelt around the shooting range and adjacent property.

“Obviously, the goal is to never have another fire start there,” Yamashita said.

In addition to the firebreak, CPW has secured funding for one temporary worker and hopes to gain funds for a second position to help with oversight at the facility.

“We’re expecting another hot, dry summer,” Yamashita said. “We’re ramping up to make sure personnel are on site.”

That point spurred a question from Basalt Mayor Bill Kane on whether CPW would close the public shooting range if fire restrictions are put in place this summer.

Yamashita said CPW will stick to its prior policies: If counties and federal public land managers declare stage 3 fire restrictions, it would indicate concerns were so grave that national forest and Bureau of Land Management holdings would be closed. In that case, the shooting range would be closed.

Stage 2 fire restrictions would not trigger an automatic closure. Stage 2 conditions prohibit activities such as charcoal grills, smoking outdoors, use of equipment that produces sparks outdoors as well as fires outside of formal campgrounds.

CPW officials would consider operations at shooting ranges on a case-by-case basis during stage 2 restrictions, Yamashita said. One advantage of the range is it contains target shooting in a supervised setting on land that has been prepared to contain fire, he noted. If the range were closed, firearms enthusiasts would be able to shoot unsupervised on other public lands.

The council also pressed Yamashita on the future of Lake Christine itself. The lake is located west of downtown, off Homestead Road.

“I’m putting this mildly, but Lake Christine hasn’t lived up to its potential,” Kane said. Instead of hosting trophy trout, the lake has “monster gold fish,” Councilman Gary Tennenbaum noted.

CPW made significant improvements to the lake in the mid-2000s and acknowledged that the agency hadn’t taken full advantage of the property. However, about six years after the improvements were made, the water level in the lake had to be reduced to assess the structural integrity of the dam that creates it.

Yamashita acknowledged that CPW hasn’t pursued a resolution as diligently as it should.

“It’s kind of been punted,” he said.

New staff is making it a priority to assess the structural issues so CPW can decide on management of the lake and surrounding area.

Problems in the area extend beyond the water level. A major portion of the parking lot is currently storing piles of chewed up asphalt. Yamashita said some of the material would probably be used to prevent vegetation from growing around the shooting range.

Kane said there is great potential at the site. Water could be added, the lake stocked, picnic tables installed and walking trails laid out. The town government would likely be willing to help with funding, he said.


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