Input sought for new gun range

Published 12:01 am Saturday, February 4, 2012

Area hunting and shooting enthusiasts will be glad to know there is a plan under way to construct a new outdoor shooting range in the Conecuh National Forest.

However, locals may be disappointed to know it may move to a site 15 miles further from the range’s current Ala. Hwy. 137 location.

The long-established range has been temporarily closed for maintenance since last January. High public demand for a range, coupled with the decision to not reopen the Hwy. 137 range for firearms use because of safety concerns, has prompted U.S. Forest Service to make a new plan.

“We believe our proposal to construct a new range is the best option for providing a quality range that complies with nationally-recognized safety standards for outdoor shooting ranges,” said District Ranger Tim Mersmann.

Now, public comment is being sought to determine not only an alternate use for the site, but also on the new proposed range site near the intersection of Escambia County Roads 11 and 4, he said. That would put the new range at the location of an old borrow pit, about 21 miles east of Brewton and 29 miles southwest of Andalusia

“Forest Service resource specialists have assessed the impacts of the proposed shooting range on forest resources; however, public input is needed to ensure that all issues relevant to the proposal have been identified,” he said.

The proposed range is described as “a high-quality facility designed to accommodate rifles, handguns and shotguns, with 100-, 50- and 25-yard firing lanes and an area for shooting clays,” Mersmann said.

“The new Conecuh Shooting Range would provide (many) shooting opportunities and be similar in design to the South Sandy Range on the Oakmulgee Ranger District,” he said. “If a decision is made to implement this proposal, design and construction of the new facility would incorporate NRA guidelines for outdoor ranges.”

He said the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will partner with the Forest Service to construct the proposed 20-station shooting range, parking lot and access road.

Once construction is completed, the Forest Service would then be responsible for the facility’s operation and maintenance, and to help defray those costs, a “modest” user fee structure would likely be implemented, Mersmann said. On a comparable scale, the fee per day on the South Sandy Range is $3 per vehicle and those with state hunting licenses are exempt from payment.

Local residents have until Feb. 27 to submit comments on the proposal, and a final decision on the project will not be made until after the consideration of public comments and the environmental effects analysis for the proposal is completed.

Additionally, possible alternatives for the Hwy. 137 site are being considered, such as an archery range or outdoor classroom. Residents are encouraged to also submit comments on a use for that site. Merrsmann said a formal site use proposal will be forthcoming for that project as well.

Anyone with questions or seeking more information prior to commenting may contact project leader Daks Kennedy at 334-222-2555, ext. 112, or planning coordinator Debbie Russell at ext. 106.

Comments may then be hand-delivered or mailed to Tim Mersmann, Acting Conecuh District Ranger, 24481 AL Highway 55, Andalusia, AL 36420; faxed to 334-222-6485; or emailed to or phoned in to 334-222-2555.