At Close Range

The Cherry Creek Shooting Center finds itself under the gun.

In Colorado, shooting ranges are allowed to monitor their own lead management in accordance with federal and state law. The Colorado health department -- the department Jane Norton headed before she became lieutenant governor -- lists seven private shooting ranges in the state as having conducted voluntary cleanups for violating various environmental safeguards, such as the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates the management of solid and hazardous waste. Lead cleanup is expensive, costing as much as $50,000 to $60,000 per site. Some National Park Service scientists estimate that the Department of the Interior spent a quarter of a million dollars on lead reclamation projects in national parklands in Colorado last year -- some of which went to greening up sites used by the Department of Defense as military training grounds.

Lead management hasn't cost the DOW nearly as much. That's because right now the division doesn't have a lead-management system in place at the outdoor ranges it operates, some of which are in designated wildlife areas. According to Smeltzer, any DOW plans to expand existing ranges or build new ones will include lead considerations.

Armstrong says that an official lead-management program will be in place at Cherry Creek State Park in three months, after the department completes an environmental assessment with the EPA.

Francisco Caceres
Rich Wyatt, a range-team technical advisor for the 
National Rifle Association, shoots straight from the lip.
John Johnston
Rich Wyatt, a range-team technical advisor for the National Rifle Association, shoots straight from the lip.

To Ted Pascoe, it sounds like too little, too late.

"I think the fact that they've never done a cleanup should make us very nervous," he says. "Even if lead shot doesn't place a grave harm to humans, it's still a potential killer of waterfowl and other species. If Colorado is really serious about expanding shooting ranges into more parkland, I think we need to see a full environmental-impact statement that makes sense -- that addresses every impact, whether that's on the neighbors, or the waterfowl, or the people who come to hike and bike in there.

"It seems the state sees this as a moneymaker, but I'm not sure that they've fully examined the financial implications," Pascoe continues. "What's the long-term impact on the environment? It's entirely possible that these ranges could net a long-term loss when it comes to issues of cleanup. It doesn't sound like that understanding is there at all."

After the first of the year, Peggy and Alan Duckworth will themselves be cleared out of the Cherry Creek Shooting Center.

Earlier this month, the couple lost out on their bid to continue running the facility. In August, Colorado State Parks had solicited proposals for the range from would-be concessionaires; applicants were required to submit plans for improving the facility -- adding a few modern conveniences like running water -- as well as developing a stronger safety program and proposing a thorough, cost-effective plan for lead management. According to Kramer, the Duckworths were outscored in a six-part assessment by Hamilton Family Enterprises, a local company helmed by an NRA instructor. (The shooting-range contract requires the approval of the Colorado State Parks Board, which will vote on the issue next month; no matter who operates the range, more of its proceeds will go to Colorado Parks under the new contract.)

But the Duckworths, who've been in a dispute with Colorado State Parks over a proposed road closure that would require shooters to pay a full park-entrance fee, believe that Parks officials were determined to oust them long before the call for bids went out. And they expect to make this argument in court: Although she won't discuss details, Peggy Duckworth acknowledges that she and her husband are preparing to file suit against the state.

"We keep hearing about how successful we were and how we're a model for other parks, but they've done everything in their power to get rid of us," she says.

Laverty envisions shooting ranges run almost entirely by the state in the future. "It's time we look at the idea of expanding the role of the Parks department to maximize our own benefit," he says. "Maybe we could look at a system where we're getting 70 or 80 percent rather than the 5 or 10 we're getting now.

"We started to see these shooting ranges as a model that we could adopt and run like a business. I think it's a business we're equipped to run well."

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