More people, more problems at Summit County gun range | SummitDaily.com

More people, more problems at Summit County gun range

More than two decades ago, local gun enthusiasts and mountain bikers lived together in perfect harmony. Or something like that.

During the late-1980s, the Oro Grande Trail ran by what is now the Summit County Shooting Range in Dillon. The riders would announce their presence and then cross between the shooters and their targets.

"There were guys that would come barreling through," recalled longtime county attorney Jeff Huntley, "and I'm like, 'Really, that's the system?' I about fell over."

Today, the shooting range has been moved to the other side of the county landfill on County Road 66 and received a significant makeover from its original state as a makeshift shooting gallery with old televisions, other household electronics and glass bottles as the targets. Thankfully, competing with moving, living objects was no longer a concern, but, with almost no existing management, the area would still get trashed and the county commissioners considered shuttering the eyesore.

Things have changed.

In 2012, the county worked to organize a group of volunteers to oversee the range, offering them the opportunity to keep the free, public operation running. A master plan was produced and the Summit Range Association (SRA) was established, receiving official nonprofit status two years later.

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Since that time, the year-round shooting site has undergone dramatic improvements through grant awards, fundraisers and countless hours of volunteer work. Those include more permanent gun rests and cover at the rifle and pistol ranges, a shotgun range with three clay and trap target throwers, as well as ADA features, so all may partake.

But as this hidden gem for the county's sportsmen, local law enforcement and Boy Scouts has expanded into a source of pride, its popularity has also grown with Front Range visitors. As a result, the SRA is seeking to implement some new policies to ensure that it can meet increasing large-group, commercial desires, while still maintaining its original purpose of fulfilling Summit County residents' needs.

"We're unique because it's free and public," said Brad Deats, SRA chief safety officer. "What we're trying to do is put some framework on it for statutory control. We're just operating informally right now. A party of 20 is going to overwhelm us if they spread out."

Requests have poured in of late for corporate team-building events, commercial use by for-profit organizations, private security firms and traveling social functions — all wanting to use the range. Already the location has seen about 2,200 visitors in 2016 — and estimated 50 to 60 percent from the Front Range — and groups bidding for the space have varied from a dozen to approaching 100.

"We had a 28-person bachelor party show up unannounced, and three-quarters of them had never shot a gun before," said Deats. "We immediately put calls out to our safety officers and other volunteers."

The SRA wants to preserve its practice of small groups just showing up, so is exploring requiring special event or special range event permits for these bigger parties. The intent is to be able to meet most asks, while also preventing area regulars from feeling the need to head into nearby national land to fire weapons due to cramped quarters and long wait times.

"It's a balancing act," said assistant county manager Thad Noll. "We do want some commercial activity up there because events can bring in big dollars. But the range is valuable to hunters and gun-safety education, and that's one of the goals of the range, so we're trying to balance public use of the range with sustainability."

Per county policy, a special-event permit is technically required for all affairs of 50 or more people. And the SRA is still mulling over the idea of a special range permit for larger training groups, which would necessitate the National Rifle Association standard of one instructor for every two students.

"As long as a group is small enough — two to a shooting bench and a two-to-one ratio — they can drop in almost any time," said Deats. "But it's where they come in and use five or six benches, that's when we have trouble. People do get upset if they come up and there's 100-percent closure."

County government and the SRA plan to work together in the near future on what new policies will be adopted moving forward. For now, the SRA recommends checking its website homepage or online calendar or signing up for its monthly email notices for events that may impact the regular schedule.

"Our first and foremost interest is to make sure that there is a safe place for people that means people don't need to go into the forest," said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. "As long as most of the time they're accommodating that first … then, if they can manage to find that sweet spot with regards to doing some other events, particularly if it's nonprofit activity or if it's education with 4-H or Boy Scouts, then that's ideal in my mind."

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