Range of activity: Changes at Basalt range since Lake Christine Fire include video surveillance
The Basalt shooting range will be better prepared to prevent wildfires this summer than it was on July 3, 2018, when the Lake Christine Fire broke.
It also could be noisier in the future.
A citizens’ task force advised Colorado Parks and Wildlife to improve safety at the facility one-half mile from downtown Basalt by hiring a range safety officer and a round-the-clock video surveillance system. CPW has already agreed to fund the measures.
The range safety officer will check in arrivals and enforce range rules. The position has been funded June through November, the time of busiest use and highest fire danger, according to Matt Yamashita, district wildlife manager for Basalt.
The state agency has also pledged $20,000 for the surveillance system, which will include storage capacity for 10 days.
“This is a priority for us,” Dean Riggs, CPW’s deputy regional manager, said of safety enhancements.
CPW was under the gun to improve safety at the shooting range. Facility users illegally fired tracer ammunition late on the afternoon of July 3, igniting a wildland fire that eventually torched 12,589 acres, destroyed three homes and forced the evacuations of thousands of midvalley residents.
CPW organized public meetings last summer after the fire threat eased to discuss the range’s future. Officials acknowledged then it wouldn’t be business as usual. The state agency appointed six Basalt residents to the task force last fall to hash out recommendations. The suggestions were unveiled for the public June 6.
Many safety steps recommended by the group have been or will be undertaken by CPW, Yamashita said. Those include completing the removal of more vegetation on the rifle, shotgun and pistol portions of the range. That work continues this summer with removal of all brush and trees within 75 yards of the shooting areas. Vegetation between the ranges also will be removed this summer.
An irrigated greenbelt behind the target area and on the side of the ranges will be pursued at the recommendation of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson. An irrigated hay field in the state wildlife area was unscathed even though hundreds of acres around it burned in July. Seeding for the greenbelt will occur in July.
Fire extinguishers have been installed at the range facilities. Water storage will be added to enhance firefighting.
Riggs also said CPW will follow Eagle County’s lead when it issues a Stage II fire restriction. He stopped short of saying the facility will close when Stage II restrictions are put in place, but also pledged, “Are we still going to try to follow the lead of the county in question? Absolutely.”
Thompson said after the meeting that he feels a closure is warranted when the fire risk is high. He anticipates CPW will make it work.
Basalt residents who had hoped the task force would find a compromise on noise are disappointed. The task force recommended expanding hours. Yamashita said the shooting range attracts about 10,000 visitors annually, and use is highest during summer months.
“We did not want dispersed shooting on our public lands,” he said.
The range was closed for the remainder of summer 2018 after the fire broke out. It reopened in the fall so hunters could sight-in their rifles, but the facility has been closed to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Shooting club members and contractors were still able to use the range seven days per week.
The task force proposed breaking hours into three seasons. During summers, the range would be open seven days per week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In winter, it would be open five days per week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In shoulder seasons, it would be open six days per week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Yamashita said the current hours will stay in place while CPW reviews the proposed change. At the June 11 Basalt Town Council meeting, several board members expressed concerns about the expanded hours. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer called them “excessive.”
The council was urged by Michael Kerr of Basalt to intervene on behalf of town residents who don’t want to hear the shooting seven days per week for up to 12 hours per day.
The board decided it will hold a formal, noticed meeting to discuss the task force’s recommendations and prepare its own comments to forward to CPW.
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