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GF&P to buy shooting range land as Legislature considers funding for third time

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.

The Game, Fish and Parks Department is ready to purchase land for a state-of-the-art public shooting range even though the South Dakota Legislature has yet to fund part of the $12 million project.

The GF&P Commission voted 6-1 on Thursday to authorize the GF&P Department to spend $900,000 on 400 acres of range land. The land is in Meade County, close to Rapid City.

“Listening to the testimony today, we’ve heard more positive testimonies today than individuals opposed,” GF&P Commissioner Stephanie Rissler said in a news release. “Hearing the positives, this is why I choose to support the resolution.”

Charles Spring was the only commissioner to vote against the resolution. Russell Olson was not present.

The department will buy the land from the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation — a nonprofit that supports GF&P — which bought it from a local rancher.

The range, backed by Gov. Kristi Noem, would have a hunting education building and shooting areas for 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.

The GF&P Department says it will cost around $12 million to purchase the land and develop the range. Most of the funding would come from federal dollars and donations, but GF&P is also asking the Legislature for $2.5 million.

While the GF&P Commission has near unanimous support for the project among commissioners, the Legislature has been more skeptical.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee voted 8-5 in January to kill the bill before a similar bill was reintroduced through the Senate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee and the full Senate approved the bill by votes of 7-2 and 28-7 before House Appropriations killed the bill Thursday on a 7-2 vote.

But the bill will have a third chance after Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron, revived it through a special procedure on the House floor.

The House will vote on the bill next week.

South Dakotans and local residents have mixed reactions to the proposed range.

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

"For more than a decade, I've lived within a half mile of a gun range near Watertown," Doug Sharp, vice president of the GF&P Commission, said in a news release. "In riding in the pasture there was never a safety issue or a noise issue; in fact, the new gun range reduced the litter and made it much safer for my grandkids."

Opponents are concerned about noise, crime, traffic, access to their property, and the impact on the dirt 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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