Gun range may finally happen

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Kachemak Bay area sportsmen hope an ordinance under consideration by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will finally give them a permanent site for a gun and archery range on the lower peninsula.

The Kachemak Gun Club has asked the borough for a long-term lease on roughly 22 acres in an old gravel pit south of Anchor Point. Ordinance 2003-29, up for public hearing Aug. 5, would lease the land to the club for 20 years at $1 a year.

The borough owns the land and has classified it as recreational, but it is managed by the Alaska Depart-ment of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Alaska Depart-ment of Natural Resources under an Interagency Land Management Transfer that is in the process of being removed. Once it is, the borough will assume management authority.

The gun club currently uses a portion of the pit at Mile 160 of the Sterling Highway as a range under a land-use permit issued by the state and endorsed by the borough. But that use is limited at this time, and general and open use is discouraged.

Once the club has control under a lease, members intend to upgrade the facility, which would include building a gate, shooting benches and a shelter for a range master, according to club president Cliff Calkins.

At that point, the range would be opened to the general public, either as members of the club or on a fee basis. Shooting would occur only during open hours, Calkins said.

According to a development plan submitted to the borough by the club, residents of the lower peninsula have worked for more than 25 years to establish a permanent shooting center. In 1975, a range opened in a gravel pit at Mile 163, but a growing population and safety concerns led the club to close that site in 1986. Some shooters moved onto private property, while others found sites where they could practice, including the original site, although it was closed officially, Calkins said.

Over the years, the demand for a safe place for shooting practice has grown along with the population. Indeed, residential subdivisions have grown up in areas that had been used for target practice. The feasibility of upgrading the site at Mile 163 was considered, but ultimately rejected as impractical because of road construction costs and topographical features.

The site at Mile 160, however, was identified as ideal for development, because it had easy road access, natural backdrops, on-site electricity, was mostly shielded for sound and already was being used for shooting, Calkins said. That led to successful efforts to ensure the proper land classification and to drum up public support.

Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Jim Hibpshman, head of the Homer detail, said his officers and those of the Homer Police Department have used the pit site for the past three years for target practice and qualification trials, bringing their own range master and targets. Having the site improved and open to the public would make for greater gun safety in general on the lower peninsula, in part by relieving conflicts at other locations with a growing number of new residential subdivisions, he said.

It also would be a good location for youngsters to practice and learn about gun safety, Calkins said.

Improvements proposed in the development plan were estimated at more than $800,000 and had a timetable for construction extending into 2008. Among the facilities the club hopes to see constructed are a 40-foot-by-40-foot single-story clubhouse, classrooms for hunter education classes, two concrete block houses, berms, assorted trap-shooting equipment, fences, gates and shooting benches. The development plans are a bit grandiose, Calkins admitted.

"You have to shoot for the moon on these things," he said. "If they're not in your development plans, you can't ever have them. But the chances for funding to do all of that are minuscule."

Calkins said he hopes this time the lease will be OK'd by the borough.

"This is the third go round with the borough trying to get land," he said, adding they had tried for land near the Homer Baling Facility at Baycrest Hill, as well as looked into two other sites off the Sterling Highway.

"We were shot down by the whining, bunny-hugger hysteria crowd time and time again," he said.

If the lease goes through, the range would be open to anyone, but shooting would only be permitted during open hours and then strictly controlled for safety.

"We are not going to let people bring stuff out there to shoot at it and come out there drunk," he promised.

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