Cooper Landing gun range looks to move out of town

This page taken from the Kenai Penisula Borough Lands Department’s documentation submitted to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly shows the proposed new location for the Cooper Landing Rifle and Sportsman’s Club’s gun range. The club has operated the gun range on Bean Creek Road in Cooper Landing since 1947 and is now considering relocating further outside the community. (Courtesy the Kenai Peninsula Borough)

After more than 70 years in the same place, the Cooper Landing gun club is looking to move its shooting range.

 

The range, settled atop a hill on Bean Creek Road in Cooper Landing just past Cooper Landing School, has been there since 1947. It’s long been located in the middle of the little community, but as people have developed more property in the area, the concerns have grown as well.

Since the 1990s, the Copper Landing Rifle and Sportsman’s Club has been looking for potential areas to relocate the range. Working with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Lands Department, the club has now submitted several pieces of legislation to get the move through the legislative hoops.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed a resolution to reclassify about 66.5 acres of borough land near Mile 40 of the Sterling Highway, just east of Cooper Landing, as recreational with the intention for the gun club to move its range there, at its Jan. 16 meeting. Another ordinance, which the assembly is considering, would amend the area’s plan for community recommendations on land use policy, noting public and borough support for the relocation. A third ordinance set to be introduced at the assembly’s meeting on Feb. 6, would lease the borough property at mile 40 to the gun club for 20 years with the option for a 20-year renewal.

The club is excited about the prospect of the new land, said president Laura Johnson.

“It’s going to be there for a long time,” she said. “I’m working on a grant right now if the lease goes through to start our first phase of design plan. It’s central on the peninsula and it goes out toward Moose Pass and Seward … we get a lot of people who come down from Anchorage to shoot. Our big goal as a club is education.”

The range used to be a central gathering place for the community, hosting classes and dances, Johnson said. Since then, more and more of the land immediately around it has been developed into houses and the community has become more popular for tourists and hikers. The process to relocate the range began in the 1990s, when the community and borough began working with the club to find a place for it to relocate the range.

At the time, there was some disagreement abut who should bear the cost of the move, Johnson said. Now, the club is working on obtaining grants and raising funds to shoulder the cost of the move and developing the new range, and the borough’s proposed lease would cost them $1 per year.

The move is widely supported in the community, in part because of safety and noise issues. The sounds of gunfire from the club can echo up to the tops of the mountains nearby, and as more people move into the area, the safety risk increases. Johnson said the insurance for the range has increased over the years as development proliferated.

“It’s just getting harder to insure stuff with people so close,” she said.

Moving the range down the road would open up the borough property behind it for subdivision as well, said Lands Management Director Marcus Mueller.

“The current location is Bean Creek Road, which is kind of in the geographic town center as much as there is,” he said. “So there is the noise, which distributes around the community, and in addition to that, there’s borough land behind the gun range that’s been subdivided, but the borough hasn’t been able to sell the land behind the gun range (because of safety issues).”

A number of the other gun clubs in the borough began by leasing property before buying it, such as the Snowshoe Gun Club in Kenai and the Kachemak Gun Club in Anchor Point, Mueller said.

The property the borough is proposing for the lease is located near an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities gravel pit, in a sort of bowl near the foot of a slope. The ridgeline at the back would act as a backstop for shooting, and the nearest neighbors are miles away, according to the borough Lands Department’s analysis. Power and access are limited, which would have to be developed in the future.

Johnson said much of the community supports the move and the gun club is looking at applying from a grant from the National Rifle Association to clean up the lead contamination at the old range site. Because they have been anticipating a move, most of the improvements they have constructed in the last 15 years or so will be moveable to the new site, and the Cooper Landing Community Club is considering what to do with the old site.

Beyond just the club’s approximately 225 members, people come from Anchorage, Seward and Moose Pass to use the range, Johnson said. The instructors regularly teach shooting classes for a variety of people, including children, and focus on safety and education. It makes sense to have an affordable, well-maintained range for people to use rather than everyone shooting in gravel pits, down power line trails or in their back yards, Johnson said.

Though they are excited about the new property, it will be a little sad to leave the old one, she said.

“It’s hard on (the members), this change,” she said. “But they have to see the future. We’re okay for now, but it is loud and we’d have to start to reduce our hours too much. I’d rather have a nice, safe (location).”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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