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Colorado's Next Big Tourist Attraction Is "The Future of Shooting Ranges"

On Friday, July 19, the three-day Bighorn Classic, a sectional championship being staged by the United States Practical Shooting Association, will get under way at the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex on Colorado's Western Slope, near the community of Palisade.

The event is the national coming-out party for the complex, a still-developing project described by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, its creator and overseer, as "the future of shooting ranges," as well as the state's next big tourist attraction — a sprawling, 1,800-acre facility that is expected to lure as many as 50,000 annual visitors, including representatives of police agencies who will be able to train for hostage situations and even terrorist attacks.

As noted by complex manager Walt Proulx, the range is laid out "near where the old Cameo power plant was, and it occupies ground that, for the last hundred years, was actively coal-mined. It's been rehabilitated and repurposed. It's a great utilization of a former industrial site."

Proulx credits the idea for the range to J.T. Romatzke, currently the northwest region manager for the agency. "About seven years ago, with Colorado Parks and Wildlife facing declining numbers of participants in hunting and fishing and the types of activities that entirely fund CPW, he did some research and discovered that 74 percent of shooting that's done is recreational in nature rather than hunting in nature — and he saw it as a natural fit that we should be reaching out to the hunting, fishing and outdoors community through a large facility that previously had not existed in the state."

An overhead view of the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex.
An overhead view of the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife via YouTube

According to Proulx, ambitions for the property, which was purchased through a series of local and state grants, soon grew to encompass "a large, comprehensive shooting and education complex that could encompass and foster participation not just in target shooting, but in training and education, as well as teaching fishing and all sorts of outdoor activities."

The concept was seen as good for Palisade, where officials were looking to supplement tourism related to its trademark peaches (subject of Westword's current cover story) and burgeoning wine industry. But CPW also hoped the complex's assorted features would inspire folks to move beyond the range to the natural environment.

The fall-off in hunting and fishing represents "sort of a generational decline that's been happening for the past forty years or more," Proulx allows. "And these days, my thought is that it has more to do with distractions — especially attractive distractions for youth. Now they've got fifty different whiz-bang electronic things to take their attention, and with all this ubiquitous, screen-based entertainment in front of them, it's hard to get them to do something that requires some time and energy and physical ability and proactive effort on their part. They might have to work for days, if not several seasons, before harvesting a big game animal, and closeness to nature requires some patience and observation and learning, whereas the instant gratification they get every time they turn on an electronic device is guaranteed. And that's sad and unfortunate, because it teaches them that they should be instantly satisfied with everything they do — and that's just not the case."

By putting what he sees as "more entertaining versions of shooting sports in front of them," Proulx feels "there will be a natural carryover. If they become more active in the recreational, competitive shooting environment, that will translate into more outdoorsy things: hunting, fishing, backpacking and just enjoying nature in general. Those go hand in hand, I think, and having a venue that makes that more accessible and more entertaining should dramatically increase the number of people who will make that next step. And I think becoming a hunter or fisher or archer and learning to shoot for the purity of the experience of mastering something, are, by their nature, a healthier intellectual pursuit for the youth of today and makes for much better developed adults."

Here's a video about the range in which Proulx appears:

Right now, the complex is very much a work in progress, Proulx acknowledges. "Phase 1A is up and running now; it began construction in March of last year and opened in late August with a large IDPA [International Defensive Pistol Association] event. That's the action shooting sports pavilion, which provides multiple shooting bays to the general public, but also has a number of event and defensive training bays for law enforcement training — people who teach concealed-carry and defense outside the home, including situational awareness classes and competition-oriented classes, where people can learn how to take part in shooting competitions and archery."

Phase 1B, the next portion of the complex scheduled for development, will highlight "sporting clays," Proulx explains. "They're like clay pigeons, only the presentation is more varied. Some of them will come from behind and fly overhead, some will jump up like grouse, some will roll along the ground; we call those rabbits. It's more of a hunting-based presentation of clay pigeons than trap or skeet. You'll walk up along a winding course, like a golf course, and at each station, you'll see an entirely different view in front of you as far as trees and walks and cliffs, and clays will come flying out in different ways."

And phase 2? "That's the visitors' center, which will be a multi-use area primarily dedicated to education," he goes on. "We'll teach fly tying, fly casting, gun maintenance. Somebody might want to teach the lost art of basket weaving or canning or any of a number of hands-on pursuits having to do with our Western heritage. We could teach arrowhead-making, hunter education, master hunter programs, birding classes, field identification of reptiles — whatever. The sky is the limit, really. And we'll also have a cafeteria/restaurant, administrative offices, a banquet facility and even a pond stocked with warm-water species that will include a portion of the perimeter for wetlands ecology education. And we're going to construct a botanic garden for native plant species and a Western-themed playground with a picnic area and all kinds of natural-history displays, where people can learn about the history of irrigation that made the Grand Valley green."

And that's not to mention "the big horn sheep we have on the site," Proulx says. "We've got a herd of about forty. They're already here. We see them all the time."

At the entrance to the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex.
At the entrance to the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife via YouTube

This weekend's gathering is noteworthy, he believes, because it's the first sanctioned United States Practical Shooting Association competition on the range, "and it will be well attended by the upper echelon of the USPSA. This will be their first look at what our facility has to offer compared to other venues that host these competitions, and they'll see that this is far and away the most advanced yet constructed anywhere in the country. We have a wi-fi system here, and there are already ranges that are planning to either upgrade to it or incorporate some of the design features we've implemented."

In the meantime, Proulx hopes the range will help change minds about firearms.

"Ultimately, billions and billions of rounds are fired every year, and the number of those that are fired in anger or in some villainous way is infinitesimally small," he says. "The absolutely overwhelming, vast majority of firearms use is in a recreational, healthy way. So if we can spread the news that the evil use of objects isn't the sole domain of firearms, or that firearms don't deserve the villainous reputation they've been given, then that's a good thing. I'm a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter, and firearms use to me is exclusively wholesome and good and constructive — and that's what we want to promote here."

Click to learn more about the Cameo Shooting and Education Complex.

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