CPW will hold two public meetings on Basalt shooting range | AspenTimes.com

CPW will hold two public meetings on Basalt shooting range

With the controversy surrounding the Basalt shooting range that was at the center of the Lake Christine Fire, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife will hold two meetings this month to let the public weigh in on the facility's future.

Emotions are running high about the shooting range at the Basalt State Wildlife Area, where the Lake Christine Fire broke out the evening of July 3.

The fire was started by a man and a woman who admitted to authorities they were firing tracer bullets at the rifle range. Use of tracers at the range, which is owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is illegal. Richard Karl Miller, 23, and Allison Sarah Marcus, 22, are facing felony arson charges.

The meetings — scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 21 and Aug. 27 — will be held at the Basalt High School.

"We want to hear from all people," CPW's Perry Will, wildlife manager for area 8, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, said on Friday. "We want to give everyone an opportunity, pro and con."

There are strong contingencies on both sides of the issue — closing the shooting range and keeping it open. Some people support closing the range in Basalt but relocating it to a site to be determined.

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"Basically, every option is open," Will said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Bob Broscheid expressed similar sentiment in an interview last month and. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he wants the incident studied so that the tragedy of the fire won't be repeated.

Critics contend the shooting range shouldn't have been open when Stage 2 fire restrictions were in place on national forest, Bureau of Land Management holdings, as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties due to dry, fire-prone conditions. The facility is surrounded by flammable vegetation and in close proximity to homes and businesses.

Defenders of the shooting range said the facility is safe if properly used. They note that Stage 2 fire restrictions don't prevent someone from lawfully shooting on Forest Service or BLM lands. Closing the range will just send more people into the woods and backcountry for target practice, they said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife temporarily closed all shooting ranges in the northwest region after the fire broke out because of the dry conditions and to assess management practices after the Lake Christine Fire. However, the agency defended its decision not to close earlier. In normal circumstances, the Basalt shooting range is open to the public seven days a week. There is not a dedicated range officer on the site.

A group of midvalley residents has started a petition drive titled, "Keep the Basalt Shooting Range Closed" on the website change.org. It was signed by 709 people as of Friday afternoon. The goal is to exceed 1,000 before the public meetings as a show of force.

Stacey Craft and Mike Kerr, two of the petition drive organizers, said they are asking only people connected to the area affected by the fire to sign the petition so it has extra weight as a locals' effort. People who live in a property or own a home or business in Basalt, El Jebel, Missouri Heights, Emma, Blue Lake, Dakota or Cerise Ranch are invited to sign the online petition.

"Those are the people we feel really need to have a strong voice and a place at the table," he said.

Kerr said the debate is all about the location of the range, not the right of people to bear arms or the need for a shooting facility.

"It's not a gun issue per se," he said.

The petition starts by saying: "There are many reasons why the community is concerned about the current location of the Shooting Range in Basalt, Colorado. Simply put, the Basalt Shooting Range is inappropriate for its current location and needs to remain closed."

The petition also said people who want a shooting range can work with local and state officials to find a suitable, alternative location.

When the issue has popped up in the past, there has been strong support to keep the range open. The Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association operates and staffs a skeet and trap club at the range on weekends. Groups such as 4-H also use the facility.

The range also is popular among target shooters throughout the valley at all times of year, particularly prior to big game hunting season.

While the petition group wants special weight on local voices, CPW said all voices will be heard because the facility is on public lands.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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