Some Kansas homeowners unhappy about new shooting range’s location

Kevin Johnson owns firearms and thinks people need safe places to shoot targets. He just doesn’t want a lot of them doing it next door.

Construction has begun for a public shooting range at El Dorado State Park about 300 yards from Johnson’s front door and not far from other houses.

Seth Turner, state park manager, said the range’s location at the east end of the dam at El Dorado Reservoir, next to the state park office, is ideal, providing easy access to the public and allowing park rangers to monitor the range when it’s closed.

The location also is the best option to keep construction costs down, especially utilities, Turner said. The range, which is expected to open in mid-2017, will cost about $2.3 million, most of which will come from federal funds earmarked for shooting range construction. The range is designed for safety and to keep noise to a minimum.

Johnson is still concerned.

“If there are 56 stations and they’re all full, that’s a lot of shooting,” Johnson said. “I have concerns about the noise and that it will be detrimental to our property value.”

High demand

Never in U.S. history has America been more of a gun society. Firearms and ammunition sales have reached all-time highs several times within the past decade, largely when fears of anti-gun legislation pushed sales. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a growing number of women and children are getting into target shooting.

The availability of places to shoot haven’t kept pace with demand.

“There’s a huge, huge need for good shooting ranges,” said Ross Robbins, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism education chief.

“We get calls all the time from people wanting to know where they can go shoot,” he said. “It’s discouraging to tell them how few options they have.”

Robbins said that, too often, people then shoot targets unsafely on private land or illegally in state and federal areas.

Turner said that, in recent years, he and his staff have handled 300 or more calls from people looking for places to shoot targets. Talk of a range at El Dorado has been going on for years.

Plans for the current range got serious in 2013, buoyed by the success of a large shooting range at Hillsdale State Park. Also, Robbins learned of increased funding available from federal excise taxes charged on the sales of shooting-related equipment. The money will cover about 75 percent of the construction of the range. The Wildlife and Parks Department pays the rest. The federal money cannot legally be used for other state park projects, such as maintenance or new buildings.

The range will have 12 shooting lanes to 100-yard targets for rifles, 14 lanes to 25 yards for small rifles and some handguns and 30 lanes to 15 yards primarily for handguns. No shotgun target courses will be constructed, to avoid competing with local commercial facilities and to keep noise levels down.

Safety has always been the top priority, Turner said. Exterior walls will be 20 feet high with 12-inch concrete walls in the center, covered with up to 20 feet of packed dirt. Interior walls between the three range distances are smaller versions of the same. Covering the range is a system of slanted, thick concrete panels that allow daylight in, but their pattern of arrangement won’t allow a wayward bullet to leave the facility.

“There’s a higher chance of someone getting hit from a stray bullet from someone shooting on private property,” Turner said, “than from this shooting range.” Trained range officers will be present whenever the range is open, which will be no more than Friday-Sunday. Shooting hours should be no earlier than midmorning until dusk.

So far, the plans and construction of the range have passed myriad inspections by state and federal agencies, he said.

Questions about location

Instead of being at the edge of the park and so near his home, Johnson questions why the range wasn’t built in one of several wide-open areas within the 4,000-acre state park.

“Twenty years ago, we built this house right here because of the lake and all of the beauty,” Johnson said. “Now, with the gun range, our view (of the lake) is going to be blocked, and all of that noise. One of the things we’ve most enjoyed is being able to see all of the wildlife, like the deer and eagles. You have to believe it’s going to scare all of them away, and who wants to listen to loud gunfire?”

Others share his views.

Janice Samuels has lived about a half-mile south of the new range site since 1964, before the lake or park were constructed.

“I’ve always loved where I’m at, the peace and the quiet,” Samuels said. “I have deer come right up into my yard. I’ve been around hunters and guns all of my life, but I don’t want to live this close to constant gunfire.”

She worries about how her dog, Copper, will handle the noise. As it is, she said, shots from farther away send the gun-shy dog into hiding within her house.

Turner held a public meeting and stopped by the houses closest to the new range. He has also talked to hundreds of people individually. He doesn’t think most people realize the extremes Wildlife and Parks has gone to for noise management.

Turner said the range was designed by a company that specializes in high-quality shooting ranges. The company said the current site is the best location. Other locations inside the park would have affected areas open to public hunting, hiking and camping. Turner said it might have cost nearly twice as much to put the same range in other locations at the park.

An acoustical engineer who specializes in shooting ranges was hired. Because of that, Turner said, the range has undergone some significant changes from the original plans.

For instance, the direction the range faced has been changed so noise coming out the back of the range goes into a wide, uninhabited valley. Original plans had the back of the range pointing down the road where Johnson and Samuels live.

Turner said that anytime someone buys property near public land, they have to expect that things could be done to that area that benefit the public. Because of the extra efforts to muffle the sounds of shots, the shooting noise should be quieter for the homeowners than some motorcycles or shots fired on nearby private lands.

“And do you have any idea how many (motorcyles) go right by the range on about any nice weekend?” Turner said. “And they do that all day and all night.”

John Grange, an El Dorado resident who is on the board of trained volunteers who will help monitor the range during open hours, thinks many who worry are exaggerating the use at the range.

He said there’s a lot of misinformation out there. He’s heard people worrying about gunfire well into the night, day after day, but he tells them the range will be open no more than three days per week.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t know for certain yet, but there are going to be other restrictions, too,” Grange said. “Right now, the plan is that we can have no more than five shooters on the line per each range officer. That means if we have two on duty, there can be no more than 10 shooters. If it’s only one (officer), it’s only five.”

Some still aren’t convinced.

Samuels said she may move if the gunfire is too disturbing. Johnson said he and others have hired an attorney.

“I’m not against gun ranges, I just don’t want it next to my house,” he said. “If it was somebody else living in this house, I would champion for them, too. I just think it’s wrong.”

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors

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