CPW wants Basalt shooting range open for hunting season but won’t rush long-term plan | AspenTimes.com

CPW wants Basalt shooting range open for hunting season but won’t rush long-term plan

With big game hunting season looming, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials hope to have at least a temporary plan in place soon for opening the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range.

But officials assured an audience of about 250 people at Basalt High School last night that they will do a thorough process to determine management of the current facility or its relocation.

They said not having the facility at least temporarily open during hunting season will cause problems.

"I'm getting all sorts of calls about people shooting everywhere," said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for CPW.

Shooting on Bureau of Land Management holdings and national forest is legal as long as it is done safely. Will said the closure of the shooting range has coincided with shots being fired in areas such as Prince Creek Road and Upper Fryingpan Valley. Hunters need to get their weapons sighted prior to big game season. The first season for elk is Oct. 13 to 17. Archery and muzzleloader starts earlier.

The gun range has been closed since the Lake Christine Fire broke out there July 3. Two people admitted firing prohibited tracer rounds that ignited the blaze. They are facing criminal charges. CPW shut down the range with a vow to conduct extensive public outreach to determine how to proceed in the future. The agency hired a facilitator and has held meetings Aug. 21 and Monday night. Both were well-attended.

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"We're trying to do this the right way," said J.T. Romatzke, Northwest Regional Manager for CPW. "There are a ton of other priorities but that is the absolute top one for me."

He said there is no deadline for a decision on the shooting range. But there is pressure for an interim solution since the first elk rifle season is Oct. 13. Will told the audience one of the issues that came up at the prior meeting was the potential for hiring a range officer so the facility could open.

"Have (we) considered having a range officer? Yes we have. I think that's going to happen," Will said.

The public range is typically unstaffed when it is open. The Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association leases space at the facility and operates a weekend shooting club, which is staffed with volunteer range officers.

Romatzke said he has received numerous calls, texts and emails since the last meeting, some from people venting frustration that the shooting range isn't open, others concerned that the process is moving too fast.

He assured the audience the agency hasn't determined a position. He wouldn't be asking people to spend their valuable time at the meetings if it was just for show, he indicated. On the other hand, he said he wants a temporary solution in place this fall.

"I want to do something for the upcoming hunting season," Romatzke said.

He said CPW might rely on its partner, the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association, to supply volunteer range officers. Association representative Larry Emery offered at both public meetings to provide volunteer officers at the public range.

Parks and Wildlife would have to get legislative approval to add a position for a paid range officer, Romatzke said. Another option for the agency, which has 800-plus employees, would be to create the paid officer position and eliminate another position.

CPW's public process is focused on eight management issues — long-term location of the facility, interim operations strategy, rules and operation, supervision and enforcement, fire mitigation, noise mitigation, interaction with neighboring development, and community engagement.

The 250-some attendees Monday night were invited to go to stations that featured one of the issues and write down their comments on sticky notes. Officials were on hand at each station to discuss issues with participants.

How CPW will follow up wasn't made clear at the meeting. The company facilitating the process will digest public comments from last night and earlier into a report for CPW. The agency will then explore forming a task force to implement proposed solutions.

Meanwhile, the town of Basalt is embarking on a process that promises to draw interest tonight. The council will consider at its regular meeting the passage of a resolution that lays out its preferred solution to the gun range issue. The preferred option is to find a new location for the range that is farther away from town. Several steps are suggested for temporary operation at the current site. The council meeting starts at 7 p.m. The resolution on the gun range is scheduled at 7:20 p.m.

Will said the current site of the shooting range has been in use since the 1940s — informally at first, then on a formalized basis since 1974. After speaking with former game wardens, Will said he learned the impetus for the gun range was so many people were shooting up and down the valley.

scondon@aspentimes.com