John Colson: Grist for the mill about Lake Christine |

John Colson: Grist for the mill about Lake Christine

I see in the news that Colorado Parks and Wildlife (which once were two separate state agencies known as the Division of Wildlife and the Parks and Recreation Department) will be holding two meetings later this month (Aug. 21 and 27 at Basalt High School) about what to do with the Basalt shooting range.

The range, as most of us around here are well aware, was the site where the still-burning Lake Christine Fire was ignited by a couple who admitted they were shooting illegal tracer rounds the evening of July 3.

The fire burned three homes and has ravaged more than 12,500 acres of terrain around Basalt, El Jebel, Missouri Heights and the slopes of Basalt Mountain. Greater loss of life and property was prevented by the quick, determined and exceedingly skillful intervention of our local firefighting crews and support crews from state and federal agencies.

The pair, Richard Karl Miller, 23, and Allison Sarah Marcus, 22, are facing felony arson charges as a result of their ill-conceived target shooting in the middle of the worst wildfire danger this area has seen in some time.

The range, which has been in use for decades with few problems, was closed after the fire started and remains closed today.

But while the fire was raging at its height, calls were circulating around the valley to have it closed permanently.

Some were criticizing the CPW for keeping the range open during the high-hazard fire restrictions that had been in effect for weeks, although CPW officials and others who supported reopening the range maintained that the fire was started by illegal activity and that when the rules and regulations were followed the range did not pose a hazard.

Not surprisingly, just as tempers were raging almost as hotly as the flames of the fire itself, sides were chosen and blaming fingers were being pointed harshly, including some critical remarks (some have labeled them as incendiary) made by yours truly in this publication.

And now, though the fire is reported to be more than 90 percent contained (but still smoldering in spots) and the threat to life and property has receded, tempers clearly have remained at the hot side of the spectrum.

A petition drive reportedly has been started and, as of the latest report on Monday, had gathered more than 700 signatures aimed at convincing state officials to keep the shooting range closed and, if warranted by public demand, relocate it to some other spot.

No word yet on whether a competing petition drive will be started with the goal to reopen the range where it has been historically, perhaps under new rules to prevent foolishness from generating a future fire.

I should note here that I own a couple of guns, inherited from my dad or purchased by myself over the years, and have been using the Basalt range off and on since I moved here in the late 1970s.

I also must point out that I am not a member of the NRA or of the more rabidly gun-nutty subset of our national population.

I believe rational rules and laws are needed in this country to prevent lethal weaponry from falling into the wrong hands, I believe in bans on assault weapons, and I believe we are in the midst of an escalating trend of ongoing national disasters in which deranged shooters go on unacceptable killing sprees.

In years past, I have resisted calls to close the shooting range, calls that primarily have come from encroaching residential subdivisions from upvalley and downvalley directions.

I have long believed that when you buy a home, you buy it as-is and ought to accept conditions that predated your arrival.

These kinds of conditions, in our local environment, have included the noise from the Basalt range, or the smell of horses and their manure that has long emanated from the Aspen Equestrian Center and its predecessors at the intersection of Catherine Store Road and Highway 82 near Carbondale.

In both cases, more recent arrivals have objected to the noise or the smell of one facility or the other, and demanded that the facilities be closed, demands that I view as unreasonable given the fact that the facilities in question have been in operation far longer than the new houses next door, and are serving a purpose that some portion of the public appreciates and wants to continue.

I don’t know if the shooting range can be relocated to another site that is as convenient as the historic one. I have my doubts on that score, given the rampant suburbanization of the Roaring Fork Valley and its tributary canyons.

And, as has been noted by numerous supporters of keeping the Basalt range in operation, if it were closed down permanently a likely result would be the dispersal of shooters into the backwoods. And to me, that would seem to increase the likelihood of firearm-caused wildfires rather than diminish it.

There has long been talk of improving the gun range by adding some sort of sound-baffling devices, which would lessen the noise carrying over the ridge to its newly arrived neighbors. I don’t know if that can be or should be pursued.

I guess all this is just grist for the mill, and we likely will hear these and more ideas being batted around at the CPW meetings in Basalt.

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