Minturn officials seek help with gun range concerns
EAGLE — Three wildfires, including the destructive Lake Christine blaze, were sparked at local gun ranges over the summer of this year.
This has Minturn officials concerned about the Two Elk Gun Range, located a stone’s throw from residential areas in town on U.S. Forest Service property.
Minturn’s leaders aren’t necessarily opposed to having a gun range located within or near the community, but they doubt the current gun range is located in the right spot.
Minturn Mayor Matt Scherr and Town Manager Michelle Metteer recently enlisted assistance from the Eagle County commissioners to determine if a new gun range location is needed or if the current site can work, with the addition of more safety provisions and operational rules.
“You are very, very familiar with the fire we had in Eagle County last summer which started at the gun range,” Scherr said. “This gun range has been a bit of an issue, because Minturn has essentially grown up around it. Those fires were just the last straw.”
Scherr noted the facility is basically unmanaged without specific operating hours. As a result, people have brought in broken-down appliances and television sets to the site to use as shooting targets. “We even have people who shoot pumpkins, which is biodegradable, but then you have waste that attracts wildlife,” he said.
But even with the problems at the site, Scherr noted that Minturn understands the gun range fills an important need.
“If you don’t have a designated gun range, you are shooting anywhere in the forest,” he said. “We see it as an economic opportunity to have a great gun range in town, but as it is, it’s a rogue operation.”
As they reach out to U.S. Forest Service officials to talk about the facility, Scherr and Metteer said the county is in a better position to lead the effort.
“As we saw with the fires, it is clearly a countywide issue,” Scherr said. “Our position is we don’t want to carry the ball on this because it’s a bigger issue than what Minturn can work on.”
Minturn has started the groundwork, however, by organizing a community group to discuss the issue. Scherr said the group consensus supports having a gun range upvalley, but the current facility would either need to be relocated or reorganized so that shooting activities are safer and more regulated.
The commissioners indicated they would be willing to launch the discussion with U.S. Forest Service officials.
“I do think we need action, as a community. I am not sure what that action is,” Commissioner Jill Ryan said. “I think that where this range is, quite frankly, is dangerous.”
Ryan noted that there is a great gun range model in the valley — the Gypsum Shooting Sports Park. County Manager Jeff Shroll, former Gypsum town manager, agreed. “This discussion is really sounding like what happed in Gypsum 20 years ago,” he said.
Shroll noted a combination of actions — including the town’s annexation of the gun range property, the establishment of a third party group tasked with running the range and the institution of hours and operations rules — has resulted in a range that is an amenity for Gypsum. He noted that done correctly, a gun range could be a facility that brings additional business to Minturn businesses and restaurants.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said that if it stays open, the Minturn range plainly needs increased safety rules. If it is closed, the town and other upvalley interests need to scout out a new range location.
“If it is something like what Gypsum has, it would be great for Minturn,” Scherr said. But he noted the issue needs a serious examination to determine if its present location is the right one or if it needs to be moved. The commissioners noted maybe a deal could be reached with the Forest Service that allows an independent contractor to oversee the range — making appropriate safety improvements and enforcing operations rules and charging fees to help finance those projects. They agreed to bring up the discussion with local Forest Service officials as well as the county managers and mayors group.
“The county has a vested interested in this. We spent 5,000 hours on the Lake Christine fire,” Ryan said.
Armed with a signed petition, jumbo-sized letter and T-shirts, group urges White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams to nix project.