Vail Valley Voices: Shooting group needs new blood
Vail, CO, Colorado
Over the last four years, the condition of the Two Elk shooting range has become a model for other shooting ranges around the state.
There are many entities that have stepped forward to help make this possible. The town of Minturn graciously provides the funding and man hours to keep a trash container onsite. The Department of Probations offers cleanup of the shooting range as an option for those working off community service.
A groundswell has also developed among shooters to clean up at the end of their shooting day, leaving nothing behind. To put it in camping terms, the vast number of shooters using the Two Elk Range have embraced the mindset of zero-impact camping.
Lastly, and most importantly, the Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest, provides us with the material to maintain the range and, at their discretion, allows the range to exist.
There is, however, a very serious issue that threatens the existence of the Two Elk shooting range and hundreds of other shooting ranges around the country — agenerational gap in the tradition of shooting sports stewardship.
To explain this, let me start with the dictionary definition of stewardship: The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
In the broad sense, the natural resources are shooting ranges nationwide. Of local concern is the Two Elk shooting range in the Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest that serves the Vail Valley and the surrounding area.
I could quote a half-dozen sources, including the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the 4-H, which show that the generational tradition of gunlore being passed from grandparents to parents to their children in a responsible manner is diminishing nationwide.
More young men and women own firearms today than ever before, but a only a very small percentage of this demographic have had any traditional training in firearms safety. Equally deficient is the understanding that it is their responsibility to step forward and not just use shooting ranges for their own personal recreation, but become stewards of the ranges for themselves and future generations.
As the president of the Minturn Shooters Association, I would be failing in my duties if I was not looking forward five, 10, 25 years in the future.
To the point, here is my concern: At face value, everything is going great out at the range. It has never been cleaner and shooters have never been safer.
But on the first Saturday of every month, May through November from 9:30 a.m. to noon, we have a range-wide cleanup. We average eight to 12 shooters who show up to scrub the range clean. In two and a half hours, it looks beautiful.
The problem is that over the past three years, the average age of the group who has taken on the responsibility (the stewardship) of keeping the range clean for all to use, is 65 years old.
This core group of aging shooters also maintains the contracts and relationships with all the other entities previously mentioned in order to preserve the shooting range long term.
With the hundreds of young men and women in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s who use the range every month, a total of three people under the age of 50 helped us clean the range last summer.
As I stated earlier, this is a national trend, but for now let’s keep it local. Currently, the shooting community in the Vail area maintains the Two Elk shooing range as a model of how to keep a shooting range clean on a daily basis.
In the future, we need to perpetuate this model to how a shooting community embraces the concept of stewardship, where young men and women shooters actively take part in the year-to-year management and maintenance of the range.
I prefer to focus on the positive but the stark reality is that for the Two Elk shooting range to be open for the next five years and beyond, we need committed young men and women shooters to join us in the management and care of the range, and, as time passes, replace us as its stewards.
This is a common cause all shooters of all ages need to embrace, or in time the Two Elk shooting range will go the way of so many other shooting ranges in this country and cease to exist.
The Minturn Shooters Association annual meeting will be held at the Ranger Station next to Meadow Mountain on Thursday, April 26, at 6 p.m.
If you cannot make the meeting, our first cleanup day this year is Saturday, May 5, from 9:30 to noon.
Matthew Bayley is the president of the Minturn Shooters Association.