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GF&P continues pursuit of shooting range after Legislature declines to help fund it

Land north of Rapid City that Game, Fish and Parks wants to turn into a state-of-the-art shooting range.
Arielle Zionts
Land north of Rapid City that Game, Fish and Parks wants to turn into a state-of-the-art shooting range.

A South Dakota agency hopes to move forward with its plan to open a public, state-of-the-art shooting range near Rapid City, despite a legislative committee rejecting state funding for the project.

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks "continues to advocate for the proposed shooting range complex and will work with the legislature to find a path forward," spokesman Nick Harrington said in an email.

GF&P is already participating in federal environmental studies and preparing to buy land for the $12 million, 400-acre facility.

But the timeline — and feasibility— of the project is now unclear after a legislative committee declined to help fund it in an 8-5 vote on Tuesday.

Members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee who voted against the funding stressed how much they enjoy shooting sports and support the GF&P, the Second Amendment, law enforcement and the military. But they said they couldn't support the project until the GF&P irons out more details and addresses concerns from neighbors.

"We need to have this, I agree," said Rep. Rocky Blare, a Republican from Ideal. "I’ll support it 100% when you get the adjacent landowners on board. You don’t have that. I don’t think it’s ready for prime time."

“You definitely have some PR work to do," echoed Rep. Nancy York, a Republican from Watertown. "I hope before you proceed further that you’ll do something to either move it to a different location or do something to help these folks out."

GF&P is asking the Legislature to use $2.5 million from the general fundforthe range. The remainder of the funding would come from federal dollars and donations.

But lawmakers said they're confused about the total price, such as an estimate of the yearly operating cost. They also want to know whether the state will pay to pave the existing dirt roads and whether there might be other costs such as fire suppression.

The range would be located in Meade County, about 25 minutes north of Rapid City and 35 minutes southeast of Sturgis. It's surrounded by ranchland, rural housing, dirt roads and a creek.

The complex would have a hunting education building and shooting areas for educational lessons, beginners, advanced shooters, law enforcement training and competitions.

It could host up to 180 people and would offer clay target shooting, long-range shooting up to 1,200 yards, and bays where shooters can move forward and side to side as they fire at multiple targets.

Sixteen people — half in favor of the project and half against it — testified before the committee.

Supporters included a couple who lives near the proposed range, a lobbyist for the Rapid City economic development organization, and representatives from the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation.

They said there's no sufficient public shooting range in the area, and this one can serve youth, adults, law enforcement and Ellsworth Air Force Base. They said the facility will improve the economy by attracting tournaments and boosting local ammunition and gun sales.

“I’ve shot all throughout the country at these kinds of facilities and to have something like this in South Dakota is just really exciting," said Terri Jorgenson, a veteran who lives 5 miles from the proposed range. “I understand safety is so paramount, so important. And these facilities are safe."

Jorgenson, a former range safety officer at Ellsworth Air Force Base, said the range can be used for youth safety instruction, charity fundraisers and military training. She hopes it would attract new gun manufacturers to the area.

Opponents included a state lawmaker who represents the area, the lobbyist for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, and people who live, ranch and operate a summer camp near the proposed range.

Residents are concerned about noise, crime, traffic, access to their property, and the impact on the roads, cattle, wildlife and drinking water.

Critics also say Rapid City and Pennington County will reap the financial benefits but Meade County taxpayers will have to foot money and manpower to maintain and keep the area safe.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.
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