State officials say Basalt gun range issues remain in their sights
A local task force is diligently pondering the future of the Basalt shooting range, and state officials claim the issue remains a priority despite turnover in three key posts.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife appointed six people with strong ties to Basalt to the task force late last year. They have been meeting about once per month to look at everything from relocating the facility to making changes to boost its compatibility at the current location.
“I’ve been really happy with everyone on the board. They want a positive outcome,” said Perry Will, the area wildlife manager who oversees the Basalt State Wildlife Area and its shooting range.
“Everything’s on the table there,” Will continued. “Whatever comes out of this — there will be improvements.”
The task force members appointed by CPW are George Trantow, Stacey Craft, Larry Emery, Bill Kane, Rob Leavitt and Charlie Spickert.
They represent a broad cross-section of the town, with Craft being a critic of the existing facility at its current location and Emery coming from the Roaring Fork Sportsmen’s Association, which leases and operates some facilities at the range. Kane is a former Basalt town manager who headed efforts to study noise issues roughly a decade ago. Trantow is chairman of the group. Leavitt is a former councilman. Spickert is involved in numerous civic endeavors in the midvalley.
All issues related to the gun range were put on the table after the Lake Christine Fire broke out there July 3. A young couple admitted to firing tracer rounds that ignited vegetation off one side of the rifle range. The fire spread across more than 12,500 acres, destroyed three homes and put the midvalley on edge throughout the summer.
Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was in office at the time, visited El Jebel on July 6 and vowed the state government would take a thorough look at circumstances of the fire breaking out on its land and evaluate if management practices needed to be changed.
“Obviously, something like that should never happen when you have fire restrictions like we had in place,” Hickenlooper said at the time. “We’ll figure out why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I guarantee it.”
CPW closed the shooting range until October, just before big-game hunting season started. It held community meetings to collect input. Some people felt the gun range shouldn’t have been open while fire restrictions were in place. Among them was a contingent contending the shooting range is in a location that’s become unsafe as Basalt has grown.
Sportsmen countered that the gun range is safe when used appropriately. Tracer rounds are not allowed at the range.
The community meetings did little to resolve the issue, so CPW appointed the task force.
Meanwhile, there have been changes in the governor’s office as well as the directors of CPW and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees CPW. Jared Polis succeeded Hickenlooper as governor.
Former Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs replaced Bob Randall as executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. Randall took an active role in the shooting range issue and had toured the Basalt State Wildlife Area after the fire.
In a statement to The Aspen Times, Gibbs said, “Colorado Department of Natural Resources remains fully committed to working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Basalt community to find solutions at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range. The recent changes at the executive director level have not changed this commitment.”
CPW Director Bob Broscheid toured the state wildlife area July 7 and took an active role in internal discussion on how to proceed with the investigation into the fire and management of the facility. He is stepping down later this month. No replacement has been named yet.
Will said CPW takes the gun range issue seriously. The task force needs time for private deliberations, then there will be a public process to discuss recommendations, he said.
The state’s fiscal year starts July 1. It’s unknown at this point if the 2019 fiscal year budget will include funds for positions such as a range safety officer or noise mitigation. CPW has already performed earthwork to beef up berms behind the rifle range, where the fire started.
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