A strip of U.S. Forest Service land between Monument and Woodland Park is now off-limits to recreational shooters.

The Forest Service said safety concerns stemming from increased use in the Mount Herman area led to its decision to ban recreational shooting along Mt. Herman Road, or Forest Service Road 320, from Monument to the Teller County line.

Signs posted by Forest Service crews Tuesday warn of the restrictions, which affect a 15-square-mile area.

The order applies to recreational shooting only. Mt. Herman Road and surrounding areas remain open to hunters who are "actively" engaged in lawful hunting, the agency said.

Erin Connelly, forest supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel national forests, signed the order Monday, citing a series of near-misses in which people said bullets whizzed past them.

"It's become such an issue that we don't want incidents of people getting hurt or worse," Connelly said, adding that recreational shooting still is permitted on 94 percent of the 3.1 million acres of the Pike and San Isabel national forests and the Cimarron and Comanche national grasslands.

Mt. Herman Road leads to a number of trails popular with hikers, cyclists and other users.

Shooting in the area generates "weekly" complaints from other trail users, said Tom Healy, a Forest Service law enforcement officer.

On March 9, a Castle Rock-area couple reported their Jeep was hit by a bullet as they sat nearby eating lunch during a break from off-roading, Healy said.

Although no one was inside at the time, the bullet passed over the passenger seat, Healy said.

"We actually have people call 911 saying they're pinned down by gunfire," he said.

The closure comes as land managers at the Arapaho National Forest have floated a plan to restrict recreational shooting to designated areas in a 625-square-mile area that covers most of Colorado's Front Range foothills and Interstate 70 corridor.

Connelly said the Monument closure was unrelated to that proposal.

At least one group of shooting enthusiasts was quick to lash out against the restriction.

Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado State Shooting Association, charged that the Forest Service was punishing all recreational shooters for the actions of a few, all based on what he called "alleged" unsafe shooting practices.

"Isolated incidents should not be used as an excuse," he said. "We should be able to use public lands in a safe and responsible manner like anybody else."

Rather than close areas, the Forest Service should increase enforcement of careless shooting practices and consider building public ranges, Fabian said.

Among those who accompanied Connelly on a tour of the area Tuesday was Neil Scheurer, an official with Rep. Doug Lamborn's office.

In a written statement, Lamborn spokesman Jarred Rego said the congressman supports "responsible use" of the area by shooters and will "urge the Forest Service to remember that these are public lands that should be open to the public."

Oscar Martinez, acting district ranger of the Pikes Peak District, said steep terrain and a network of heavily used trails could be a deadly combination.

"It's too much of a confined space, with too many shooters and too many other people trying to use the area," he said.

Reporter

I cover legal affairs for The Gazette, with an emphasis on the criminal courts. Tips to lance.benzel@gazette.com

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