A meeting of hikers, bikers, rock climbers and shooters on Monday brought compromise and an apparent resolution to the issue of the Cody Shooting Range Complex expansion.
“I kind of see both ends of the coin but I think there’s a way to make this mutually work out for everybody,” said Laurence Stinson, a mountain biker and self-described “gun enthusiast.”
BLM staff hosted the summit, which drew more than 35 members of the public, including many recreational and environmental advocates and a number of representatives from the shooting range. Most in attendance appeared to have come out of concern for safety and loss of public access due to the expansion.
The shooting range has petitioned for a 228-acre expansion that would increase its land to the east and south. This land is currently Bureau of Reclamation property and public land.
Park County has submitted a land transfer proposal for the land on behalf of the range. BLM is in charge of approving the land transfer process and has submitted a draft environmental assessment.
The assessment document shows the exact new boundaries and all-encompassing effects the expansion will have on the nature and recreation in the area.
“The first thing they do is they evaluate whether they do or do not still need that land for recreation purposes,” said Chad Krause, BLM assistant field manager.
No trails or roads will be closed because of the expansion but a two-track road that sits along a ridge east of Dry Creek will cross through the proposed expansion area before leaving again before the start of recreation trails.
The status and safety of this road was a much discussed issue on Monday.
“As long as they are guaranteeing safe access along that ridge road to access the public lands then we’re OK,” Clint Cook, a Park County Pedalers board member said.
Although this road-to-trail access point is less trafficked than the other trails that make up the Outlaw Trail system to the south and west, it is the only entry point to boulders and cliff bands used for rock climbing, a moderate-level mountain bike trail, and to possible trail expansion that could occur northwest of the range in the future.
“It’s important to access this land … for potential future development of recreation,” Cook said. “That’s what’s really important at this stage. That they’re not landlocking out the physical access.”
Otis Smith, president of the Cody Shooting Range, said an archery range will come closest to this road, but will be designed to have shooters fire away, to the north from people outside the complex.
“There will be no shooting in that direction at any time,” Smith said.
After some pressuring, Smith also agreed to consider building a fence closing off the range from the road on its north side. His request to build a gate on or near the road was accepted by a general consensus.
The stipulations placed on this intersecting corridor will determine the status of its public access into the future.
“The agreement with Park County and the gun range will restrict or allow access,” Cook said.
Wyoming currently has the most landlocked public lands in the United States with 3.05 million acres of unreachable lands.
Exact stipulations of the land use and management will be bound not by BuRec or BLM, but the Park County Commissioners. The range will continue to lease its land from the county at a symbolic $1 per year annual price. The commissioners dictate and decide whether to renew this lease each year.
“I feel like the commissioners are reasonable people,” Dick Downen said. “If they say they’re going to do archery only they probably will … The county commissioners don’t want to see anybody get shot.”
But the contingencies of this agreement will be dependent on who is a commissioner, meaning that expansion does not guarantee “forever access,” Cook said.
The expansion will also provide the Range better facilitation of services, new rifle and pistol ranges.
Otis also said he will enact new and improved fencing and signage alerting people to where the northwest boundaries of the range are.
In 2010, 298 acres of land was conveyed to Park County for the first stage of the shooting range’s planned expansion. This most recent expansion is the second stage. It originated shortly after the first expansion was granted but has become slightly smaller since first drafted, to consider some of the recreational activities used outside the range.
Sarah Beckwith, public affairs representative for BLM Wyoming Wind River-Bighorn Basin District, said if all goes as planned the expansion will be finalized by early 2020.
The environmental assessment is available for viewing at go.usa.gov/xybYk. Comments must be submitted by Aug. 15 online, or by mail to the BLM Cody Field Office, 1002 Blackburn Street, Cody, WY, 82414.
Following the public comment period, BLM will address comments, finalize the environmental assessment and issue a final decision.