Two forest fires in four months prompt Minturn shooting range closure discussion | VailDaily.com

Two forest fires in four months prompt Minturn shooting range closure discussion

MINTURN — On Saturday, Sept. 29, a second wildfire in four months started near the shooting range in Minturn. While the investigation is ongoing, it has been declared "human caused." The first wildfire there on Saturday, June 9, was started by someone shooting "exploding targets," which is illegal.

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the Minturn Town Council started the discussion about possibly shutting down the shooting range — which has been there for 100 years, some residents say — and finding a new location for it, something that could take an act of Congress, due to its current location on federal land. The call to action is about the safety of the town and its residents.

It is important that shooting ranges are in a safe, controlled environment. To be clear, no one was against shooting guns; more so the meeting was about discussing a safer, more manageable way to do it, as the U.S. Forest Service is limited in its resources to manage the land the range is on.

"We don't yet have results about what caused that fire, but even if not at the gun range, I believe that until that range can be managed appropriately and adequately, it should be shut down," Minturn Mayor Matt Scherr said.

'Bad Eggs'

About a dozen community members spoke at the meeting, as well as members of the Forest Service and Eagle County Sheriff's Office.

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Residents from the south part of town voiced their frustrations with the range, from explosions shutting windows in their homes to noise pollution and safety. It was clear that most frustrations from the shooting range sprout from the "bad eggs" that ruin it for everyone, but one "bad egg" is capable of starting a fire near town, let alone possibly two this summer.

While signs have been put up, there's no gate to the shooting range and other regulations make it seem like a "cowboy range," one resident said, adding that most of the trouble comes from people from the Front Range, not residents themselves.

"Hopefully no one is dumb enough to turn around and shoot at us," one resident said of fears when hanging out by the river.

While the Forest Service is limited, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office has a strong presence around the shooting range.

"I feel ownership for the town of Minturn," said deputy Scott Peterson, with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, "so if there's an issue, give me a call."

Peterson said the Sheriff's Office is focused on education when responding to calls at the range, but citations are a possibility.

'Before we open it'

For now, the range is closed due to the fire damage around it and the ensuing investigation.

However, the council is looking to get ahead of the issue, knowing how long it takes for Congress to act.

"Before we open it, something should be done," resident Kelly Toon said. "I think it should have a plan. We're a small community and we have a lot of smart people, and I think we can come up with something."

Proposed ideas included possibly finding a piece of land not on Forest Service land and finding another entity to manage the range, possibly Colorado Parks and Wildlife or other entities with shared interests.

"If you think a bill of $180,000 was huge, think about a fire that moves into an urban place," said Eagle River Fire & Protection District Chief Karl Bower, referring to the cost of the most recent fire in Minturn that burned about 25 acres.

'Come spring'

"What does it take? Another fire that jumps the creek, burns a house and kills someone?" resident John Smith asked the council, noting he is a gun advocate but believes the range is not in a safe spot. "I don't think it's something we can afford to dance around any more. This is not going to go away."

With a civil discussion with the Forest Service and the Sheriff's Office, as well as resident input, the Town Council decided Wednesday to start drafting a letter to send to their representatives in Congress requesting to shut down the shooting range for safety purposes.

The letter will be discussed again at an upcoming council meeting before being sent.

The town is also seeking input, especially from the shooting community, on where and how to place and manage a new shooting range in Minturn.

"Come spring, something's got to be happening," Mayor Pro Tem Earl Bidez said.

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

Next Steps

The Minturn Town Council is going to draft a letter and have a volunteer committee focused on solutions for the shooting range weigh in before presenting it to the town and then eventually sending it to Congress. The goal is to shut down the range for safety reasons and find a new location for it, as well as possibly a new managing entity.