Nearly a year and a half after the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) closed an area located off the Tonopah Salome Highway due to numerous incidents caused by target shooting and other recreational activities, the federal agency has proposed the development of a designated target shooting “microsite” west of Buckeye and State Route 85.
In addition to that site, located on Narramore Road, BLM’s proposed shooting sports pilot project includes three more areas throughout Maricopa and Pinal counties: Saddleback Mountain would be southeast of Lake Pleasant and a quarter mile south of State Route 74; Church Camp Road would be on North Christian/Church Camp Road, southeast of Lake Pleasant and half a mile north of State Route 74; and Box Canyon would be on North Hidden Valley Road, south of State Route 238 and east of Maricopa.
Still in the early stages, officials are seeking comments, concerns and suggestions as part of a public scoping process that ends Tuesday, July 2. As part of that process, a public scoping meeting was recently held at Buckeye Community Center.
“With such a large population base and growing, and one of the largest-growing counties in the country, we wanted to take a look at how we can manage for these various uses (of public lands) in a responsible way,” BLM Phoenix District Manager Leon Thomas said at the meeting. “This is the beginning of that as far as recreational target shooting.”
The four microsites were selected because they are already popular with recreational activities and have minimal conflict with surrounding development. BLM officials primarily considered access, safety and use, Thomas told the West Valley View.
Once developed, the areas would range from passive management, where simple safety measures would be installed, to active management, with full infrastructures and possibly even range masters, details Thomas likened to the Ben Avery Shooting Range northwest of State Route 74 and I-17.
As the project is still in the scoping stage, current designs are conceptual and BLM is taking suggestions before moving into the engineering and design process.
Various levels of development could include firing lines, backstops, side berms, concrete pads and/or restrooms, among other features. (See accompanying sidebar for proposals by site.)
One local woman, Trenda Long, spoke favorably of the plans while looking over a conceptual drawing of the Narramore Road microsite.
“This would be great. It’s just right around the mountain from our house,” Long told the West Valley View. “We’re just excited to see that they’re going to put more places that say, ‘Here’s a designated area. Shoot here and don’t trash up the desert.”
But many residents, including Long, had feedback for Thomas and other officials.
Long suggested a running deer target, and inquired about the types of targets that would be used. Thomas responded that “everything’s on the table,” and that Long and others would have to submit suggestions formally before official determinations are made.
Another resident, Dan Bauer, said range is one of the most important details to residents.
“I think one of the big things that we’re looking for is distance, because when we had the primitive range, which is out where Joe Foss is now, we had known distances out to 500 and 600 yards,” Bauer told the West Valley View. But when “they built Joe Foss, they limited (it) to 200,” he added.
Though 1,000 yards would be his dream, Bauer admitted that’s not feasible. So, he suggests at least including 500-yard targets.
“We had people that would drive from Scottsdale and Mesa just because we had 500 yards available,” he said. “That’s one of the big things that I think would be extremely popular. If you have a safe, 500-yard range — at least one or two of them — that would be huge.”
The overall idea of the pilot project, Thomas said, is to get a firm grasp on how to best manage recreational shooting on public lands. Though four sites have been proposed, officials are open to suggestions for additional or even different locations, should conflicts arise.
And while BLM is not considering fees to partake in recreational shooting on these sites for the time being, Thomas admitted the possibility exists.
“We want to manage it for a year or two, just for a little while, just to learn and see what the dynamics are; what type of staff do we need; are people actually using these sites; as far as resources go, is it one of those things that we’re going to have to passively manage or actively continue to put money into,” he told the West Valley View. “We’re going to learn from this pilot and then that will determine whether we’re going to move out and do other sites.”
Approximately 97% of the BLM-managed lands in Arizona being open to recreational shooting. Public lands are also used for activities such as OHV, hiking and equestrian use.
While Thomas said recreational shooting access or licensed hunting elsewhere will not be affected by the pilot project, the Tonopah Salome Highway site remains closed.
Months of incidents prior to the closure of that site included the death of 24-year-old pregnant woman Kami Gilstrap by possible stray bullet; complaints from Westpark residents regarding the potential danger of the nearby desert shooting; police discovery of illegal activities; and repeated damage to a then-aboveground Cox Communications line.
In the year and a half since that area was closed, Buckeye officials have been working to patent, annex and subsequently develop that site with a large municipal sports complex and an off-highway vehicle (OHV) and bicycle area.
The hope of BLM’s pilot project is to encourage safe recreational target shooting at the four proposed microsites.
“We want to take a look at how we would manage these sites as an agency, along with our partners out there, and see if we can reduce some of the conflicts that we’re seeing as far as resource damage and conflicts with other recreational-type activities,” Thomas told residents.
In addition to berms and backstops, safety precautions at the proposed microsites could involve park rangers or other law enforcement personnel, who Thomas told the West Valley View would patrol to ensure rules are followed and waste is not left behind.
“We also want to take a look at access,” he added. “We want to make sure that there’s a good ingress, good egress, and any other roads that are out there right now that may be in the firing line and design, we want to go ahead and reclaim those roads from people using those roads.”
Among the concerns of those who live closest to the Narramore Road site were the sounds of shooting and Tannerite, a form of exploding target, late at night and early in the morning.
Thomas suggested he would like to enact operating hours at the four microsites, though public input and further analysis will be determinants.
And with only a mountain between Narramore Road and homes, some residents acknowledged worries of long-range weapons.
But operating plans to be developed at a later stage, Thomas said, will determine maximum occupancy of the sites, caliber weapons and target distances.
What comes next?
After the scoping process, BLM officials will review residents’ comments and put together a draft environmental assessment, which considers direct, indirect and cumulative impacts. At a later date, the assessment will be released for public review and input, after which a final environmental assessment will be approved.
For the design process, Thomas suggested groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), Arizona Game and Fish and Ben Avery, all of whom have experience, will be brought in for input.
Possible project funding sources include internal BLM funds, support from the Department of the Interior, partners such as gun clubs, and grants suggested by Arizona Game and Fish, he told the West Valley View.
And the hope is to break ground in January or February, though officials will have a better sense of the timeline after the scoping period concludes, he noted.
“The next step is we’re going to pull in groups like shooting clubs, members of the public (and) the NRA as a part of the process to help inform us as far as how we’re going to design these things,” he told residents.
For more information, visit BLM’s ePlanning website at https://go.usa.gov/xmfVv or contact Tyler Lindsey, acting project manager, at 623-580-5500. A scoping fact sheet is available at https://bit.ly/2KVUu0H.
Comments can be submitted directly on the ePlanning website. Comments may also be sent via email to: email@example.com or mailed to the BLM Phoenix District Office at 21605 N. 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027, to the attention of Tyler Lindsey, or sent by fax to 623-580-5580. Include “RecShooting Microsites” in the subject line.
Fully developed site
Long-range rifle range with fixed steel targets
100-, 50- and 25-yard bays
Shotgun skeet shooting range
Gravel access road and improvements to parking
Concrete paved platforms with shooting structures
Minimally developed site
Short- and long-range firing areas
Overnight camping area
Church Camp Road
Established parking areas
Shooting bays for multiple categories
Concrete shooting platforms
To address potential environmental exposure from lead waste, lead weirs and retention basins will be considered for all sites.