Steamboat Springs As the specter of residential development slowly envelops it, the Routt County Rifle Club is preparing to move from its 40-acre home on U.S. Highway 40 just west of Steamboat Springs city limits.
The gun club shares its north border with a southern boundary of the Steamboat 700 development that proposes to bring more than 2,000 homes to a 700-acre parcel. Steamboat 700 developers hope to have their land annexed into the city limits.
Steamboat "700's going to shut us down," said Ken Klinger, a Routt County Sheriff's Office investigator and frequent user of the range. "You can't have kids running around, and they cross the line and they're on a firing range."
According to a letter sent to various officials by Rifle Club member Omar Campbell - the oldest active member of the club, the gun club land was originally purchased in 1948.
"As far as I know, it has been an ongoing amenity of the community ever since," Campbell wrote.
Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tom Leeson said the Routt County Rifle Club could legally continue operating despite surrounding development, but he said the club recognized the incompatibility.
"I think it was always anticipated that the gun club would move as that property was enveloped by residential development," Leeson said. "They've known for a long time that this was on the horizon. : They understand that if they wanted to stay, they probably could, but they're trying to be good neighbors."
Routt County Rifle Club board member Dave Kleiber said liability concerns also are prevailing on the club. He said making a stand is not worth the possibility of a bullet escaping the range and shutting the club down for good.
"It ain't making things easy for us," Kleiber, a detective with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said of the encroaching development. "But because of the residential development and the sale of the Brown property, it's perpetuating the need to move the club. We think the prudent thing to do would be to look at where we can move the range."
The right price
The geography of the shooting range is a small basin. Despite its high surrounding ridges and protective berms, Sheriff's Office Investigator Mike Curzon noted that any caliber gun could send a bullet beyond the boundaries of the range if fired irresponsibly.
"Once a bullet's left the barrel, there's no way to stop it," Curzon said. "Safety's got to be a concern. : It's a concern already, and 700's not even in."
Kleiber said the club has some properties it is interested in buying and has received interest from potential buyers of its current location, including the developers of Steamboat 700.
"I've talked to them several times and made them an offer on their land which they chose not to accept," Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said.
Mulcahy said the club didn't reject him outright, but rather did not know what direction its membership wanted to move at the time of his offer. He said he still might be interested in the property.
"At the right price, always," said Mulcahy," but it's not integral to my plan. I don't have to acquire it."
If he did acquire it, Mulcahy said he would likely use the land for retail or industrial purposes.
Kleiber said the gun club board wants "as much as we can get" for its land, but he would not be more specific. Mulcahy and the other developers of Steamboat 700 bought the 540-acre Brown property for $24.6 million, or just over $45,500 an acre, in March 2007. If the Rifle Club's 40 acres fetched the same amount an acre, it would sell for more than $1.8 million.
Kleiber also would not be specific about the properties the gun club is interested in purchasing, except to say that the club's goal is to remain within a 20- or 30-minute drive of Steamboat. The most difficult part of the situation, Kleiber said, is timing the sale of the current property and the purchase of a replacement one in such a way that there is no significant interruption in having a range available.
Such an interruption would affect many more people than the Rifle Club's 350 members. Archers, biathlon athletes with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, hunters, law enforcement officers and others also use the range.
"The impact on this is a little known thing in the community for the most part, but there's (hundreds) of members," Klinger said. "That's a lot of people. The loss of this will be a big deal if they don't find another property."
For law enforcement, the largest concern associated with a loss of the range for any period of time is the loss of training ground.
"We use the facility a lot, and we're just one agency," Curzon said.
While other shooting ranges exist in Yampa and Hayden, Klinger noted that they don't have the same facilities or maintain the same level of upkeep. Neither has an indoor range, for example. Klinger said the Sheriff's Office uses the Rifle Club's indoor range to train deputies on shooting in the dark using flashlights. Klinger noted that most law enforcement shootings occur after dark.
"We have to train," Klinger said. "We have to keep our guys trained up as much as we can. If we can't get our guys trained up and there's an incident, the county can be held liable for failure to train."
In any event, there will likely be plenty of time for law enforcement agencies and others to prepare for the imminent departure of the Routt County Rifle Club from its current home.
"This is in the infancy of the process," Kleiber said. "The timeframe we're looking at is a two- to three-year process. We anticipate the range is going to stay where it's at currently for at least a couple years."
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