After months of environmental tests and safety evaluations, District Ranger Brent Botts decided to make few changes to South Rampart Shooting Range: some new berms, backstops and signs, increased patrols and cleanups, and a reinstatement of range rules.
The modest action may frustrate those who say the area is perpetually trashed, an environmental problem, a noisy neighbor, and that some range users fire their weapons unsafely, endangering nearby hikers and bikers.
But the decision isn't the final word on Rampart. It's considered a short-term solution.
The long-term solution will be based on findings of a collection of private and public entities with an interest in shooting sports, which together signed a Memorandum of Understanding last summer. The group is looking at the demand for shooting ranges across the Front Range, and where new ranges could be located. It will conduct public meetings this summer and issue recommendations later this year.
"Right now we're in the scoping phase," says Shaun Deeney of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
It's hard to say what they'll recommend for Rampart, but here are a few things to keep in mind. First, a National Rifle Association-sponsored technician has recommended that Rampart be supervised. But the U.S. Forest Service can't afford a range master, and while Botts has said he'd love to turn over the area's management to a private company, that has proven impractical. (Companies have considered it before but dropped the idea because of high up-front costs of setting up shop at the remote range.)
Here's another consideration: The Forest Service isn't keen on closing Rampart without opening another shooting range to take its place.
For now, the Forest Service says it will collect more data on the range. A public survey, posted at fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/projects/srsr, is soliciting answers to questions such as, "How many miles or minutes are you willing to drive to recreational shoot?" and "Would you be willing to pay a fee for shooting at the South Rampart Shooting Range?"
Forest Service reps are making frequent trips to Rampart to see how many shooters use the area and how they use it. They're also keeping an eye on lead levels in soil and the water of Williams Creek (below the range), which is a concern because of bullets and shells that litter the area.
"We are going to continue to monitor that in the future," hydrologist Dana Butler says, noting that lead was undetectable in Williams Creek, and below EPA limits in soil samples.
Botts has said he believes the area is safe for now. New berms and backstops, more patrols and signs and a restatement of rules for the range should improve safety.
Of course, rules help most if everyone follows them. Some shoot handguns and rifles in the shotgun range meaning bullets travel aimlessly, far out into the woods. And, of course, hikers skirt the rules and venture into off-limits areas along Williams Creek, potentially putting themselves in the line of fire of irresponsible shooters.