After about a decade of waiting, the Cody Shooting Complex will finally be allowed to extend its boundaries.
The shooting range has been granted approval for a 228-acre expansion that will nearly double its land to the east and south. This land had previously been Bureau of Reclamation property and public land and has now been conveyed into local hands.
Shooting Complex President Otis Smith said the new expansion will allow for an archery range, better facilitation of services, a 200-yard plinking range, and the possibility of new rifle and pistol ranges, but the last two will require significant dirtwork.
Most importantly, he said, the expansion will allow for greater flexibility at the facility, as it should alleviate the need to shut down the entire complex when a competition is taking place.
“This way everyone can function without interfering with someone else,” Smith said.
Park County will lease the new land to the complex, just as it leases its current land, at a symbolic, $1 per year annual rate. The complex now will boast a total of 675 acres on its property.
The county submitted a land transfer proposal for the land on behalf of the range to the BLM, which was in charge of approving the process.
In 2010, 298 acres were conveyed to Park County for the first stage of the shooting range’s planned expansion. This most recent expansion is the second stage of the expansion and was drafted shortly after the first expansion was granted.
“We waited a long time for a deed and we finally got it,” Park County Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said.
A number of leaders prior to Smith initiated and continued the effort to get the expansion passed, but only Smith can take credit for it, passing under his watch. He credited his board for this success and the completion of other recent projects like an electronic gate and a paved road leading to the facility.
“We don’t have any slackers, none,” he said. “We have accomplished so much.”
He also commended the U.S. Forest Service, the local BLM office and Park County commissioners for helping get the project approved.
“They just worked their tails off,” he said.
It was not a smooth road getting the expansion approved. Smith said every time the local BLM office changed management it felt like they were starting anew. In 2015, the project was delayed further when former President Barack Obama ordered sage grouse be taken off the Endangered Species Act candidate list in exchange for new protections. That year, an executive order injunction was delivered by former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead that designated the desired expansion land as part of protected sage grouse mating land, known as leks.
After the commissioners lobbied Mead, an adjusted boundary was created for the sage grouse in 2017 that removed the expansion land from sage grouse protection designation, but the BLM’s resource management plan wasn’t finalized in regard to the original executive order until 2019.
“There’s never been sage grouse out here,” Smith said.
In the summer of 2019, the BLM projected that the expansion would be approved by early 2020, but that projection was still off. All documents were not finalized until this May.
Smith said the project was luckily already passed when President Joe Biden took office, as his administration put a temporary suspension on many BLM applications.
New range of activities
First on the agenda will be a major re-fencing project at the facility, funded by a $50,000 grant through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
No public 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.
Smith said that land will go untouched and fencing will be put up to separate the range from the public lands in order to create a better buffer zone between it and the range activities.
“We don’t want to interfere with the bike people at all,” he said. “They have as much of a right to the area as we do.”
He said this activity is not intended to compete with the Cody Archery Club, but to meet the demands of his current membership base, now boasting more than 500 members.
“A lot of our members are not members there,” he said. “Our people want it. If I can, I want to give it to them.”
Smith said the archery range, which will face away from the two-track road, will be the only activity taking place on the new south side of their property. This will include 3D and regular archery, but still needs verbal approval from the Park County commissioners.
A new amended lease for the Shooting Complex signed by the commissioners on June 1, assigns no specific rules for what firearms activity can take place on the new land. Smith said an informal agreement to “keep them in the loop” will occur regarding all new projects.
The complex will not host the Governor’s Shoot for the first time since 2018 this summer, but will host a number of smaller events including a state shoot for sporting clays July 21-25 and private event for major firearms manufacturers and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in September.