Residents have mixed reaction to massive proposed shooting range near Rapid City
Joe Norman passed ranchland, scattered homes, and views of Black Elk Peak and Bear Butte as he drove down dirt roads north of Rapid City.
It was a quick drive from his house to a parcel across from Norman's property where the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks wants to spend $12 million building a massive, public, state-of-the-art shooting range.
The fenced-off site has flat prairie and rolling hills for engaging shooting areas and natural bullet protection.
Norman, who has a family-run cattle business, said most of his neighbors are against the proposal.
"It's a very nice valley, with lots of ranches that have been in families for over a hundred years, and it's just going to disrupt our way of life," he said. "Our quality of life will go down, just with the noise, the increased crime and the increased traffic."
Opponents also have concerns about the impact on the wildlife and drinking water.
But supporters say it will increase ammunition and gun sales, bring tournaments that will boost the economy, and provide a much-needed facility for civilians and law enforcement.
"This is going to be imperative to train agency staff, youth, adults on the proper and safe handling of firearms and how to shoot," said Dennis Mann, a former GF&P employee who lives four miles from the proposed range.
The 400-acre complex is located on Elk Vale Road in Meade County, about 25 minutes north of Rapid City and 35 minutes southeast of Sturgis. It's surrounded by ranchland, dirt roads and Elk Creek.
The facility would have shooting bays divided by berms — or mounds of earth to stop bullets — with ranges up to to 1,200 yards. It could host up to 180 people.
The design includes a hunting education building, a south range for the general public, and a north range for more experienced shooters. North-range shooters could use "action bays" for practicing tactical shooting.
GF&P has been prioritizing shooting sports for a long time and began searching for a Black Hills site three years ago, according to John Kanta, an agency official based in Rapid City.
GF&P found the location in December 2020 before the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation — a nonprofit that supports GF&P — bought it for $900,000 in June 2021. The agency will ask the GF&P Commission in March for permission to purchase the property from the foundation.
Kanta said the estimated total cost of the project is about $12 million.
GF&P hopes to receive $2.5 million from the Legislature and match that amount through the Pittman-Robertson grant. The federal funding is generated from excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.
The rest of the funding would come from donations from businesses, shooting advocacy groups and individuals. Kanta said GF&P has already raised $2.5 million with $2 million coming from one family. The facility will likely be named after that family, who the GF&P is not yet naming.
Meade County will benefit from the project in at least one way. State law says the GF&P must pay property taxes on its game production and shooting areas.
GF&P hopes to break ground this spring and complete the project by the fall.
Larry Reinhold, who ranches and hosts a summer Bible camp 3.5 miles from the proposed range, said it makes more sense to build the facility in Pennington County.
"The population center is Rapid City. They already have a shooting range just south of Rapid City. I would say why don't you build on that? And then you have the resources from law enforcement, it's a paved road."
Some residents are worried that an increase in visitors to the area will mean an increase in crime. Norman said people have broken into homes in the area and shot cattle in the past, while Reinhold said others shoot at traffic signs and into fields.
Mann said the range should prevent that kind of illegal and dangerous shooting.
Another concern is noise. Norman said his friend in Watertown lives three miles from a gun range and can hear gunshots every day. He's also afraid the noise will scare away pronghorn, grouse, deer and other wild animals.
Mann said sound can be mitigated with the berms and other topography. Some shooters use sound suppressers on their guns.
Norman and Reinhold are worried the range will lower their property values and bring lead contamination from ammunition to cattle and human drinking water.
Kanta said it would be illegal to allow lead contamination and that GF&P will create environmental plans with multiple federal agencies.
“What we'll do then is use topography and drainage. And we'll put swales in the drainage and holding areas where necessary, and vegetation," he said. "And so what that will do is ensure that lead doesn't contaminate the water and then run off of the property.”
Norman and Reinhold's final concern is that they feel the GF&P didn't properly consult locals, since they only learned about the proposed in the past few months. Staff and landowners had their first meeting earlier this month.
Kanta said the agency brought the proposal to the GF&P Commission and Meade County officials in January 2021, a month after it located the property. He said GF&P also began calling nearby residents and knocking on their doors but might have missed some people.
Mann — who lives just a bit farther from the range than Norman and Reinhold — said most of his neighbors support the project.
Supporters say this would be the first public, free outdoor shooting area in the Black Hills that offers long ranges, room for competitions, and opportunities for both the public and professionals. It would also have ranges where shooters can move forward and side to side as they fire at multiple targets.
Eric Robinson, who lives in Sturgis, said similar shooting areas — such as the one in Grand Island, Nebraska — have attracted tourists and tournaments.
"The level of sponsorship that shows up to that and the prize table is crazy. The number of people that show up is outrageous. I've actually never been able to compete because the spots sell out on like day one. So clearly there's an enormous interest in this sort of stuff," he said. "lf these people are going to Nebraska, why don't we want them coming here?"
King Cavalier, who also lives in Sturgis, said a government-run range promotes safety and oversight.
"The private individual can't possibly file the environmental impact statement, provide for appropriate and successful lead mitigation, ground preparation, lead mining and safety," he said.