Game and Fish aims high to get competition shooting facility in NWA – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wants to build a first-rate public shooting sports complex in Northwest Arkansas — a much better one than it can afford, according to commission Director Austin Booth.
So the commission plans to try something new, according to Booth. It will draw up a detailed request for what it wants and will release those specifications in a competitive “request for proposals” in August. The request will be an open invitation to any local or regional group — public, private or any combination — to offer a package of land and money to cover at least part of the cost of building such a range. Any proposals also will need to include agreements about which parties will operate the complex once it is built.
The type of facility the commission wants will cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million and possibly more, Booth said in a telephone interview Thursday. If built, the Northwest Arkansas complex will be the commission’s “flagship shooting facility,” open to the public and owned by the commission, Booth said.
The details such as annual costs to operate will come out when the commission drafts its proposal and then sees what proposals it gets in response, but even the basic requirements are demanding, Booth acknowledged.
He’s right, said Don McNaughton, a Realtor based in Fayetteville.
“I’m not going to say it can’t be found, but it’s going to be pricey,” McNaughton said when told the essentials of what the commission is looking for in a site, as described by Booth.
Any such facility would be in high demand if built, said Jesse Bocksnick, outdoor skills instructor for the Arkansas 4-H program for youth.
“If there was a facility like that, we could host four-state regional competitions with Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma,” Bocksnick said Friday. The 4-H center in Ferndale in central Arkansas has a smaller range with some housing on site, “and it’s busy all the time,” he said.
People living in large population centers need ready access to a safe place to shoot, Bocksnick said.
“With the large population centers up there in the Northwest, that sounds like an ideal location,” he said.
Northwest Arkansas is an ideal location, said Chuck Sharp of Bentonville, a former president of the Arkansas State Trapshooting Federation.
Sharp has gone to numerous national competitions and served on the board of national shooting organizations, he said. Northwest Arkansas has everything those groups are looking for in a competition site — except a suitable facility.
“We have an airport,” Sharp said. “We have food, entertainment and lodging. We have decent weather overall. Arkansas is on the radar already, with Crystal Bridges,” the American art museum in Bentonville. “The only piece we haven’t got is the land.”
Both Sharp and Bocksnick also said Arkansas has a strong tradition of responsible and skilled recreational shooting.
“We have a silver medalist in the Olympics from Arkansas,” Sharp said, referring to Kayle Browning of Greenbrier. She won her medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. To Arkansans, Bocksnick said, “recreational shooting is like baseball or riding an ATV. We have a large population of people who do it.”
The commission is shooting for — pun intended — a range attractive to national shooting competitions. That would mean trap and skeet ranges, Olympic bunker trap facilities, pistol and rifle ranges, archery facilities plus a clubhouse with educational space. In addition, the site will need recreational vehicle hookups to host national shooting competitions.
Recreational shooters in Arkansas spend $486 million a year on their sport, but only $64 million of that is spent in Northwest Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, Booth said in his July 14 presentation to the Northwest Arkansas Council. Each congressional district in Arkansas contains one-fourth of the state’s population. The $64 million figure is a little more than one-eighth of the state’s spending on these sports.
“To me that spells one thing: untapped potential,” Booth told the council. “There are about 1 million people living within a 50-mile radius of Springdale,” Booth said Thursday. Such a radius includes parts of Missouri and Oklahoma.
Nationwide, more people participate in some form of recreational shooting than in tennis, for instance, or soccer or baseball, Booth said, citing outdoor recreation industry figures. There is a reason. Shooting is an acquired skill, he said. Anyone willing to learn the skill can shoot regardless of age, size, speed or other such physical limits, he said.
“There are attributes you have to have to be an offensive lineman in football or a gymnast,” Booth said Thursday. “To shoot, you have to have the eyesight and the ability to pull a trigger.”
There is nothing genetic about being a good shooter, he said. Any facility the commission builds will be fully handicapped accessible, he said. There are competitive archers, for instance, who shoot from a wheelchair, he said.
The top consideration for a competitive proposal will be the site, Booth said.
• 150 acres of flat land nowhere near wetlands or a recharge area — an area where water from the surface drains into underground water. The lead in bullets and shot could seep into waters close by. “Your environmental mitigation costs go vertical if you’re near one of those,” Booth said.
• The land must be longer going north and south than east and west. “If it’s not, the people on the range are shooting into the sun either in the morning or the afternoon,” Booth said.
• The site needs access to water, sewer and other utilities plus be accessible by road.
• The site needs to be far enough from developed residential areas to avoid noise complaints from neighbors.
Booth’s description matches what anyone in real estate would give for prime property for development, McNaughton said.
“Anybody with property like that is going to want to subdivide it,” McNaughton said. “It’s not impossible, but you’re probably going to have to get several property owners together, have them combine their holdings and then have the group of them offer 150 acres out of what they have.”
“The requirement that it all be flat or mostly flat probably means you’re going to have to go west out toward Siloam Springs,” McNaughton said. “Also, anyone who’s a neighbor to it is not going to like the noise.”
“It’s not going to be easy, but it can be found.”
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