Shooting-range plans stall on questions over availability of property
The state parks and wildlife agency is solidly behind the idea of building a state-of-the-art shooting and outdoor education facility at the old Cameo power plant property, but a recent meeting between agency officials and local leaders revealed just how difficult the project would be to pull off.
The idea for a large-scale shooting facility in the area has been swirling for years, but it’s only with the impending availability of the property at Cameo — about 3,000 acres split between private owners Xcel Energy and Snowcap Coal Company — that the idea has picked up steam.
Both the nearby town of Palisade and local officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife are leading the initial effort for the shooting and education site at Cameo. And CPW is optimistic that Snowcap could make a timely exit from their portion of the property, and sell for a reasonable price. But the fact that Xcel is likely still years away from being able to turn their property over is a major hurdle right now.
“Regarding the Cameo property, it’s probably premature to get too excited at this time,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca at the recent meeting among officials.
“(Xcel is) still fairly early on the reclamation process of the property. They are looking at, I’m thinking, a couple of years or more to have that property considered for clearance.”
The lack of alternate locations jeopardizes the project further, especially if Cameo doesn’t turn out to be a match for the idea. As Acquafresca noted, privately owned parcels in the 1,500-acre range just don’t exist in Mesa County — much less one isolated from people, yet with easy access built in.
At the recent meeting, Ron Velarde, co-manager of Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region, detailed previous efforts by his agency to pursue similar shooting facility projects. A notable Front Range project fell apart from political and neighbor pressures, even after about $16 million in funds had been secured for the project.
Grant money from Great Outdoors Colorado was a big part of that funding plan, but that type of grant money won’t be available for this project until a property is secured, said District Wildlife Manager Frank McGee.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but if we don’t get going, it’s not going to get done,” Velarde said.
The question of leadership is also a real issue, especially at a time when money and resources are tight for all the players.
“This isn’t a CPW project. This is a Grand Valley project,” Velarde said. “Who’s going to take the lead, and move it forward?”
While CPW can certainly provide early support to get the ball rolling, Velarde made it clear his agency can’t shoulder the load of shepherding the project all the way through, and then be responsible for managing the facility as well.
He said CPW has been reducing its number of full-time employees, and, “We’re probably going to be reducing more FTEs. We don’t have the manpower to do it.”
Obstacles aside, everyone present at the recent strategy session agreed that the type of shooting facility envisioned — with a multi-distance main range, a clay target center, archery and specialty ranges, and multiple pistol ranges, among other amenities — is something missing from the region at large.
The closest thing to what’s planned is the BLM range in the north desert on 27 1/4 Road, which is a far cry from the organized, state-of-the-art facility planners envision.
“(The 27 1/4 Road range) is OK — if nobody is out there,” said Tom Kenyon, a Grand Junction City Councilor and also a board member of the Colorado Mule Deer Association. “But if you ever go out there when it’s busy, you’re taking your life into your hands.”
He called the range on busy days “chaos” and “not safe.”
Western Colorado, though, is particularly suited to a shooting facility project, because of people’s attitudes about shooting sports, Velarde said.
“We have an advantage on the West Slope, because in general people support the concept. But finding the right property is the key to the whole thing,” he said.
Also key is demonstrating community support for the project, so CPW is soliciting feedback from Grand Valley residents about the concept.
An online survey can be found at bit.ly/rangesurvey.