Shooting-range proposal draws fire from some Garrett County residents

THE BALTIMORE SUN

GRANTSVILLE -- A state plan to build a shooting range in Savage River State Forest has fired up neighbors who fear the roar of rifles will disrupt their mountain tranquillity.

Maryland officials are looking to build a 150-by-400-foot shooting range just northeast of New Germany State Park headquarters to accommodate throngs of hunters who want somewhere to practice before traipsing into the woods after deer, squirrels, turkeys and other game.

"Hunters come here for deer season, want to get their guns sighted and have nowhere to shoot," said Patty Manown, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources. "If they shoot at cans or trees at camp sites in the forests, we give them tickets. They tell us that's not fair and that the state should have a place for them to practice shooting."

The DNR is considering five sites within the 57,000-acre forest in eastern Garrett County for a shooting range. The others are farther from state park headquarters and vary in public accessibility. DNR officials want the shooting range close to headquarters so its use can be monitored.

About 30 people attended a recent public meeting on the plan. Most of them objected to the preferred site but supported a shooting range elsewhere in the forest. State officials will accept public comment on the plan through July 30.

The preferred location is part of a five-acre tract off West Shale Road and is the site of an abandoned surface mine the state wants to reclaim. Ms. Manown said the state would save money by building on that site because an existing refuse pile could be used as a backstop. Otherwise, money would have to be spent to move tons of dirt to create a mound-size backdrop as a safety measure. Earthen side barriers also would be built.

Bradley Nee, an energy resource specialist with the state Bureau of Mines, said the state is waiting for a decision on the shooting range before moving ahead with a $100,000 reclamation project. The state expects to pay for three-quarters of the project with a federal grant.

Mr. Nee said the site, mined in the late 1950s and early 1960s and then abandoned, poses a safety hazard. A large water-filled pit and a high wall remain on the tract. The reclamation project would mean the restoration of wetlands and regrading of other acreage, he said.

Roger Resh, who lives about a half-mile from the proposed site, is among the adjoining neighbors who oppose the location.

"I'm not opposed to the shooting range. I'm just opposed to the location," he said. "I hunt and do everything the rest of the guys do. With all the forest they have, you think they could find a site where it doesn't interfere with traffic and other things."

DNR officials said the location is surrounded by woods and that sound studies showed no adverse effect on the neighborhood.

"It's really an ideal location," Ms. Manown said. "There's a real need for it. Most of the visitors to the forest are hunters."

State Del. George Edwards, a Garrett County Republican, agreed that a need exists for a shooting range in the county but said the DNR needs to find a site that has the least impact on neighbors.

"There's a lot of support for something like this up here," Mr. Edwards said. "The issue is where do you put it. Yes, it would be nice to have a public shooting range so hunters don't have to damage signs and trees during deer season. The location is the issue."

The shooting range, part of a long-range management plan at Savage River State Forest, the state's largest forest, would become one of four public shooting ranges in Maryland. The others are at Elk Neck State Forest in Cecil County, Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area in Charles County and Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County, DNR officials said.

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