Two years after Bocco Mountain Fire, local man lobbies BLM to move shooting range
“I feel the need to stand up for Mother Nature and for everyone’s safety, even if I stand alone’
Wolfgang Uberbacher has operated his Mountain Wolf Jeep Adventures business in the area north of Wolcott for more than three decades, and he is convinced the shooting range located on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property at Bocco Mountain is an accident waiting to happen.
Actually, he believes it is another accident waiting to happen. In 2018, Uberbacher was the first person to spot and report the Bocco Fire, which was ignited at the shooting range and, ultimately, burned 415 acres. It was a heartbreaking sight for a man who sees himself as a caretaker for this little piece of the American West.
“To me, that area is one of my favorite places to operate. It is so different from the other places we go,” Uberbacher said. “To me, this area is very sacred, and over the past 30 years, I have really seen it overused in many ways.”
Land of many uses
Uberbacher is well aware that the Bocco Mountain area is BLM property, and as such, it is “a land of many uses,” as the agency’s motto proclaims. Historically, one of those uses has been a shooting range.
“I am not against shooting or guns, at all,” Uberbacher said. “My biggest concern is the safety. People don’t take responsibility for camping and, particularly, shooting.”
“The site north of Milk Creek Road has historically been used as a shooting area, in part because few other options exist in the Vail Valley that reside on public lands,” said Chris Maestas, the Northwest District public affairs officer for the BLM in Colorado.
For clarification, Maestas noted that locals call the entire area at the top of the hill the Bocco Mountain Trailhead or parking area. The Bocco Mountain Staging Area (for OHVs) is immediately south and supports trails to the south in the Bocco Mountain Extensive Recreation Management Area. The site north of Milk Creek Road (called the East Castle Peak Viewing and Parking Area) supports people viewing Castle Peak or can serve as an additional unloading site for ATVs/UTVs heading up Horse Mountain Road.
There is a visitor information kiosk in the Bocco Mountain Staging Area, but it does not include the types of capital improvements that would define it as a developed recreation area. That definition is important because the BLM does not allow shooting in developed areas.
Because the BLM is aware of the historic shooting range in the area, Maestas said the agency does monitor the site. “Both recreation staff and the law enforcement officers remind shooters to follow safe target shooting guidelines and be aware of the nearby traffic and visitors. BLM staff also maintains the area on a regular basis,” he said.
But the BLM is responsible for large swaths of property in Eagle County and has limited resources.
“I have been on the BLM for a long time. Every year, I talk to them,” Uberbacher said. “They try to do their best.”
But because the BLM does not station staff to operate and oversee the range on a daily basis, Uberbacher said irresponsible behavior often ensues at the site.
“The worst time to be there is the weekends,” Uberbacher said. “The shooters know the rangers are off and will not patrol it. People drive in and start shooting, less than 75 feet from the road.”
Uberbacher is dismayed by the trash and bullet casings regularly left behind at the site, but he is downright disturbed by the irresponsible behavior he has witnessed.
“The garbage is the least of my worries. One of these days I am worried someone is going to get shot and injured,” he said, noting that some people shoot at the hill summit.
“Behind that hill, there is a trail,” Uberbacher said.
As for fire concerns, Uberbacher said that danger has already been demonstrated. “People are shooting tracer bullets and putting up metal target to shoot, so there are sparks everywhere,” he said.
Uberbacher believes there is a better location for the shooting range, just a short distance from its current locale.
“We are aware of this site; we visited with Eagle County commissioners and recreational shooters a few years ago in hopes of finding an alternative location,” Maestas said.
He said the initial planning efforts sought to develop something similar to the Summit County Public Shooting Range.
“BLM and Eagle County staff visited the Summit County Public Shooting Range, located at the Summit County landfill. However, at that time, there were no suitable locations by the Eagle County landfill that met range requirements (good backstop, year round access, near I-70, longer shooting lanes),” Maestas said.
He noted that the only site that seemed acceptable was about 1⁄2 mile east of the current location. However Maestas said that site would require building/improving an access road, leveling parking areas and identifying shooting locations.
“Neither the BLM nor area partners have secured funding necessary to conduct site improvements for this potential alternative location. In addition, BLM would have to meet requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act for any proposed project,” Maestas said.
So, without a ready alternative, the BLM allows shooters to continue using the existing range.
“The biggest concern remains visitor safety. Our goal is to find another suitable location, so we can close this site to shooting,” Maestas said.
Uberbacher hopes that publicizing the situation will bring support for the effort to relocate the range. “The other site would be a great alternative,” he said.
In the meantime, he plans to continue his stewardship of the land, which recently included a cleanup day at the site. Maestas and Uberbacher both noted that BLM crewmembers, and a BLM truck, were part of that cleanup effort.
“BLM staff maintains the area on a regular basis,” Maestas said. “Both recreation staff and the law enforcement officers continue to remind shooters to follow safe target shooting guidelines and be aware of the nearby traffic and visitors.”
But Uberbacher believes the place he holds sacred deserves more, so he continues his campaign to make that happen.
“My friends say I am wasting my time on this, but I feel the need to stand up for Mother Nature and for everyone’s safety, even if I stand alone,” Uberbacher said. “If nobody does anything, things are going to get worse.”