On Thursday, June 6, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will unveil a citizen task force’s recommendations for the short- and long-term operations at the Basalt gun range. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Basalt High School and is open to the public.
The gun range was the site where the Lake Christine Fire originated last July 3 and eventually scorched 12,588 acres of wildland brush and destroyed three homes. The fire burned from Basalt to Missouri Heights and back again and forced the evacuation of thousands of local residents. It took firefighters nearly two months before the blaze was 90 percent contained, and court filings place the cost of the fire at around $25 million.
Two young adults, Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, who were at the range shooting a rifle when the fire broke out, were arrested and charged with firing tracer bullets during a time when there was a stage-two fire restriction. After facing multiple felony charges, Miller and Marcus entered a plea agreement with the 5th Judicial District Attorney's Office and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Their recommended sentence is scheduled to be formalized on July 1 in Eagle County District Court when they are expected to receive 45 days in jail, $100,000 in restitution, 1,500 hours of community service and five years probation.
The gun range was closed for over two months and local citizens were surveyed at two contentious public meetings about the fate of the range last August. CPW conducted extensive public outreach on what to do with the range, including whether the range should be relocated. At the meetings, some citizens wanted the range closed because of noise issues, environmental concerns and safety, while others, including many local gun enthusiasts, pleaded for the range to stay open. In mid-September, the range was reopened after dirt berms were created, fire-mitigation equipment installed and natural fuels surrounding the range removed.
Over the last six months, the CPW has charged a local citizen’s task force, which includes members Stacey Craft, Larry Emery, Bill Kane, Rob Leavitt, Charles Spickert and George Trantow, to discuss the gun range among themselves and with firearms and fire mitigation experts.
They have created a set of recommendations about the future location and operations of the gun range that will be revealed on June 6. The meeting is for informational purposes only, and no final decisions will be made that night. Instead, both the citizens’ task force and the general public will be able to discuss and ask questions about the recommendations and offer comments.
At two public meetings in August 2018, the gun range issue was polarizing.
With the fire still burning, and the public still fuming about the fire, the loss of three homes and the recent memories of the evacuation, there were calls for CPW to permanently close the gun range. But at the public meetings, a majority of those attending were for the range to remain open in its current location but operating under new rules. They cited the range’s importance to local gun owners, especially during hunting seasons, so that they can safely sight their rifles. Otherwise, more hunters will use BLM land and the national forest to ready their rifles for hunting season.
Suggestions for the future of the gun range have varied from relocating it to another location to keeping it at its current location but enclosing it or hiring a gun range safety officer to oversee its operations.
A group called Midvalley Residents who live from Basalt to Cerise Ranch circulated a petition last fall with hundreds of names included in hopes of closing the range permanently and relocating it. At the same time, the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen’s Association asked for the range to remain, and offered to supply a range safety officer or train someone to do that job so that the range could safely stay open.
Acting area wildlife manager Matt Yamashita has previously declined to detail the task force’s recommendations before the June 6 meeting, though he did say that they evaluated the “pros and cons surrounding the topic,” established a “list of criteria” for any potential fixes to the problem of keeping the gun range in its current location and that CPW has put together a presentation that will be presented and discussed on Thursday.
Aspen Daily News reporter Andre Salvail contributed to this story.