Basalt shooting range to reopen Saturday, Sept. 15, with added safety measures | VailDaily.com

Basalt shooting range to reopen Saturday, Sept. 15, with added safety measures

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

BASALT ­— The Basalt-area shooting range where a still-smoldering wildfire started more than two months ago will reopen Saturday, Sept. 15, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

"It's time to open it," Perry Will, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's area wildlife manager, said Thursday afternoon, Sept. 13. "We need to provide a place for people to shoot.

"I don't want them doing dispersed shooting. That's the whole reason for the range and why it was created in the first place."

The Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range has been closed since Tuesday, July 3, when the Lake Christine Fire began. Prohibited tracer ammunition fired by an El Jebel couple ignited brush near the range and started the fire, which has burned more than 12,500 acres, destroyed three homes and cost an estimated $17 million to fight so far.

Richard Miller and Allison Marcus are facing felony arson charges. The fire remains 90 percent contained, while all area fire restrictions have been lifted.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials held two well-attended meetings in Basalt in recent weeks to gather community input about what to do with the range, which has been in use since the 1940s.

Recommended Stories For You

Will and other officials said during those meetings that not having the range open for hunting season was causing hunters who need to sight their weapons to do so on Bureau of Land Management and national forest land. Shooting in dispersed areas like those, which is legal as long as it is safe, creates even higher fire danger, he said.

"Shooting in a controlled environment is always better," Will said Thursday, adding that he believes the range is now completely safe.

There was "overwhelming support in the community to keep it open and have a safe place to shoot," Will said.

However, the decision to open the range Saturday does not mean Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made the final call on what to do about the range, he said.

"We're not done with the process," Will said. "This is the interim opening of the range."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will put together a steering committee that will look at options and solutions for the range, which could include moving it, with an eye toward making permanent decisions in about six months, according to Thursday's Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.

"We are still committed to working alongside the residents of this community to find common ground," Romatzke said in the news release.

In the meantime, the range will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays "until further notice," according to the news release. Will said that will probably be for about the next eight weeks.

Upgrades to the facility include permanent removal of brush and vegetation, installation of fire extinguishers, improvements to the backstop and hiring range safety officers who will be present at all times during operating hours, according to Will and the news release.

The safety officers initially will be paid by the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association, Will said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife might start paying the officers in the future, Will said.

The fire mitigation work will be done twice a year in the future, he said.

Nonetheless, the agency — which has put more than $100,000 and 3,000 employee hours into responding to and analyzing the situation at the range — isn't taking any chances.

"Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff are working closely with the local fire district to conduct a site tour and review all fire mitigation and prevention work performed to date to make sure the range is safe to open," according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife's news release.

A message left Thursday afternoon for Scott Thompson, Basalt fire chief, was not returned.

Also, a Burned Area Emergency Response team has been working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials to gauge the potential future risks — including weather-related debris flows — within the fire's footprint.

The Basalt Town Council passed a resolution late last month urging Colorado Parks and Wildlife to relocate the shooting range, while acknowledging the need to reopen it for hunting season. The council, however, has no authority over the range, which is located in the Basalt State Wildlife Area where Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in charge.

Two of the main suggestions from the council were to have uniformed range officers and fire risk mitigation. In the long-term, the council asked Colorado Parks and Wildlife to investigate alternative locations for the range.

Phone messages left Thursday for Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney and Basalt Town Councilman Gary Tennenbaum were not returned.