Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TOP STORY >> Opening shots for firing range

Leader staff writers

The sight of orange clay pigeons flying into the air before being shattered into clouds of dust will be a familiar scene on Graham Road in Jacksonville next spring.

On Monday, Gov. Mike Beebe, along with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission members, Game and Fish Commission Foundation board members and local leaders broke ground on a $2.2 million shooting sports complex near the intersection of Graham and Loop roads.

The Game and Fish Commission Foundation is providing $1.5 million to fund the 160-acre sport-shooting and archery facility on the edge of Holland Bottoms Wildlife Management Area. Jacksonville will spend $125,000 a year for the next five years on the shooting range.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, it was announced an anonymous donor provided $50,000 for the complex.

“It is a tribute to the rich and steep tradition in regards to the outdoors and an asset of the people,” Beebe said about the shooting range during the ceremony.

He said the shooting complex is a way for Jacksonville, the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and the Game and Fish Commission to give back to the community.

Beebe said the range will continue the state’s outdoors tradition for future generations.

He told The Leader why Jacksonville was the perfect place for such a facility.

“First of all, Jacksonville is centrally located,” Beebe said. “Secondly, it’s the Jacksonville city fathers and the leadership of your state representative and others here in Jacksonville who fought for it. And then obviously Jacksonville’s contribution in terms of the real estate that makes it a pretty good natural fit.

“Jacksonville stepped forward and Jacksonville’s the beneficiary. The entire state will benefit from it, but Jacksonville will benefit the most,” Beebe added.

“We have been working on this the past two years,” said state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville).

Perry said the shooting complex will be one of the largest in the nation. Perry presented Beebe with a shooting vest.

Perry and Phillip Carlisle have spearheaded the project since becoming volunteer coaches for Jacksonville’s two AYSSP teams. They saw the need for a larger facility than the Remington Gun Club, which has hosted the tournaments in the past, and approached AYSSP director Chuck Woodson.

“These kids come with their parents, grandparents, friends and relatives,” Perry said. “That’s four solid weekends of 6,000 to 7,000 people coming into your city.”

Mike Wilson and Jim Pea-cock sold the land for $3,000 an acre.

“Jim and I have been talking for years about some way to utilize the property that would be compatible with the Game and Fish management area,” Wilson said. “For close to two years we’ve been working with Mark Perry and Phillip Carlisle. Those two men are the ones who really got this thing going. And we’re glad to sell it at what we thought was a reasonable price. We’re landowners, but we’re also big supporters of this project. It’s going to be a great thing forevermore.”

Bond Engineering is developing the range and Wittenberg, Deloney and Davidson is the architectural firm.

The shooting sports complex will have a 5,100-square-foot clubhouse, pavilions, grandstands, food and vending services. It will be handicapped accessible. The complex will also have RV parking and camping. The public shooting range will be overseen by the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.

According to assistant parks director Kevin House, the shooting complex will be open at least five days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with the possibility of extended hours. Admission fees have not yet been set.

The complex will have 13 shooting stations with room for expansion. Some of the fields will have lighting.

The first regional tournament is scheduled for April. The shooting range will have two full-time and two part-time employees. The complex will also host hunter education and hunter safety programs.

The shooting complex will host the Youth Shooting Sports Program State Championships. The complex will also have 3D archery with life-size targets.

The Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission on Monday voted unanimously to provide up to $130,000 the first year for the shooting range.

“I think having it here will help those interested in northern White County be more involved, so they don’t have to drive so far to practice and competitions,” said Ginger McAlee, shooting coach of the Beebe Blue Rock Blasters.

McAlee said most shooters practice at Blue Rock in North Little Rock and in Lonoke.

“Anything the Game and Fish and Chuck Woodson (Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program coordinator) do seems to explode. Sup-porting the Game and Fish is important,” McAlee said.

Dalton Townsley is a college student who helps with the Jacksonville High School and Lighthouse Charter School shooting teams. He said the first year they had 13 participants. The following year, it increased to 25 and it keeps growing each year.

“I wanted to try something different. I enjoy it,” said Jasmine DeBose, an eighth-grader at Lighthouse Charter School.

DeBose said she doesn’t hunt, but shooting a gun is fun.

Patricia White and Eule Foster live across the road.

White said she is used to looking over at the field and seeing deer. She is concerned with shooting and possible ricochets.

Foster is worried about gunfire waking area residents who sleep during the day and work nights and “the little ones.”

She hopes the complex will have cameras and security officers to protect the area. She said if the shooting range makes the state better, she is fine with that.

“We can watch them. We haven’t had this much action in years,” Foster said.

“I think it is very good for the city of Jacksonville. Appreciate all the effort of the Game and Fish Commission, Game and Fish Foundation and the city officials of Jacksonville for pulling it together,” Alderman Mike Traylor said.