Wildfire north of Woodland Park started at shooting range, Forest Service says (copy)

U.S. Forest Service photo

The “Turkey Track 7 Fire” started near a shooting range about nine miles north of Woodland Park, west of Highway 67, on April 12, 2017. The U.S. Forest Service reported that the fire started at the range. That range is proposed to become an official Pikes Peak National Forest shooting range.

As the time for public comment comes to an end this month on the proposed designation of Turkey Tracks as an official shooting range in Pike National Forest, several neighbors are skeptical.

Noise, repeated sounds of gunshot, trash, lack of regulation and the potential for reduced property values are among the complaints.

“All these people now want to own a gun and start shooting,” said Gary Bieske, who lives in West Creek, one of three subdivisions adjacent to the area in Douglas County. “They don’t realize the impact the shooting has on the neighborhood.”

West Creek resident Linda Dewey recalls an incident where a stray bullet from the area ended up in a neighbor’s garage, after zipping through a car in the driveway. “My husband and I have left our home on weekends because of the noise,” she said.

Word-of-mouth and social media have led to the increase, Bieske said. “Shooting is definitely a growing form of recreation,” he added.

As a public forum for complaints as well as support, the neighbors launched a website, www.turkeytraks.com.

In the effort to address the issue, the U.S. Forest Service, in alliance with other governmental entities, formed the Southern Shooting Partnership.

Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams said, “Pike National Forest consists of 1.1 million acres and its proximity to the Front Range has seen an incredible increase in multiple uses from Colorado’s increasing population in the past decade.”

One of the uses is the dispersed shooting, which led to the proposed Integrated Management of Target Shooting in Pike National Forest.

“I would encourage our citizens to make their positions known. Nearly half of Teller County is comprised of federal land, including the Pike National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management,” Williams said. “We have a long-standing positive relationship with our federal partners.”

However, the area has become a dumping ground for litter and larger items often used for target shooting.

“It’s a nightmare out there,” said Shawn Nielson, who with his wife Eve Woody founded the nonprofit Focus on the Forest. “We’ve done a bunch of cleanup there, started a trash collection site.”

Along with the trash is the constant danger of wildfire. For instance, on the 4th of July, shooters entered the area through an unlocked gate and, despite high winds, continued shooting, eventually igniting a grass fire, Dewey said.

Volunteers from Mountain Community Volunteer Fire Department and Douglas County Sheriff, responded.

Acknowledging the threat, the Office of Emergency Management from Douglas County teamed with the Forest Service to cut fire breaks and do fuels mitigation to reduce this potential, Williams said. “The USFS has also constructed a considerable amount of fencing around the area which closed unsafe ATV routes running through the informal range and closed off firing positions oriented toward Colorado Highway 67,” he added.

Nielson predicts unintended consequences of shutting down the informal range. “It won’t stop the problem of the out-of-control shooters,” he said.

Bieske and Dewey acknowledge that something needs to be done. “The range is probably a good first step,” Bieske said. “There are a lot of legitimate people out there shooting — hunters, for instance.”

The two say they have yet to hear about a management plan or the implementation of fees.

Nielson, of Focus on the Forest, nixes the idea of fees for a public range. “If you start charging, 1% of people won’t pay; they’ll just go somewhere else,” he said.

Designated shooting ranges in Colorado are funded by federal excise taxes on the purchase of firearms and ammunition and distributed through grants funneled through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“The possibility with Turkey Tracks is that Forest Service can get grant money from us for our expertise and to make sure they’re safe,” said Tim Kroening, district manager for CPW.

The public comment period ends Feb. 22. Comments can be made via an online form on the Forest Service website. Find it at tinyurl.com/y3f3zrgz.

Teller County residents should make their feelings known, Williams said.

“There is the potential for some closures to dispersed shooting in the Pikes Peak and South Platte Districts but that will depend on critical public feedback,” he said. “I am not aware of any range being proposed in Teller County or of any closures currently.

“Because Turkey Tracks is not a formalized range, the place has not been engineered or designed with any safety features.”

Neilson and Woody aren’t giving up. “We’ve got big plans to help get Turkey Tracks back in order,” he said. “The moral of the story is that Turkey Tracks needs to stay open.”

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