I was in a local sporting goods store recently, waiting patiently at the checkout counter for my turn to pay up. It amazed me when the gent ahead asked the clerk a question that I get calls on every day — “Where around here can I go and shoot my new rifle?”
Instead of telling the customer to join a local gun club (either East End Rod & Gun Club in M-F or Waitsburg Gun Club), to my amazement she simply directed them to a rural area. “Nobody cares, at least not yet, if you shoot there,” she said.
That’s odd. Here is a person working in a sporting goods store telling patrons it’s OK to go to a rural area, set up some targets next to a public thoroughfare and blaze away. Who knows if the place she recommended is even safe? But for sure, it is bound to be unsightly, and not a very good advertisement for shooters or the shooting sports.
But thinking about it for a minute, I realized she had a point. The fact is, there isn’t any place around here to “just go shoot.” In fact, there is no public shooting range for rifles and pistols anywhere in Walla Walla County or any nearby county. Archery shooters are equally out of luck.
And while always open to the public, Walla Walla Gun Club’s present site is “shotgun only.”
Walla Walla Gun Club has been trying for three years to find a place to build such an all-inclusive public gun and archery range. After several false starts, we really thought we had a great place — a location between the Sudbury Road Landfill and the Washington State Penitentiary.
In the summer of 2012, club member Gerry Taylor, President Mark Jungmann and I sat down with City Manager Nabiel Shawa in his office. He explained that the landfill had 800 acres of excess land available for public use. The Port of Walla Walla had identified part of it they would help develop into a commercial site or sites, but there were around 100 acres more or less that could possibly be available for our range.
Wow! That’s wonderful.
It lays to the north so there is no sun problem, it’s close to town but downwind of everything so noise would be negligible, it’s easy to get to and it’s on city-owned “park land,” which could be developed for a shooting park with no need to change the zoning. What’s better than putting a public shooting range on public land, and getting grants and private donations instead of the taxpayers to pay for it?
In short, it was perfect.
Then the bad news hit us like a ton of bricks. Shawa called me one day to say that unbeknownst to him, the city’s waste contractor was using the 800-acre parcel for land application of solid waste from the city’s sewage plant. Since the city has no other land available to deposit this sludge except this site, both Walla Walla Gun Club and Port of Walla Walla would have to wait until the city could convince the state Legislature to provide $1.5 million for a sludge treatment plant.
Of course, the rub is that the state doesn’t have a millions of dollars to give the city for that or any other purpose. So here we sit — just waiting for years perhaps — until Olympia bestows a trove of money upon us.
Well here’s an idea: Since the city needs revenue, let’s get a gun and archery range going at the landfill, and the rent the city collects would be, if not a trove of money, certainly a nice chunk of it.
Walla Walla Gun Club people have spent a lot of time identifying ways that a small portion, say 40 acres, of the 800 at the landfill site could be assigned for use as a shooting park without disrupting or inconveniencing the land application process. We’ve also heard from concerned citizens who, on their own initiative, have talked about the concept with personnel at the landfill who are familiar with the waste application permit from Department of Ecology. Together with these contacts, our work convinces us that such ways do exist, and are practical.
The landfill site is by far the best, most convenient and environmentally friendly site in the whole of Walla Walla County to locate a public shooting range.
It seems likely that if a public gun and archery range is going to happen at that site, a fair amount of public interest will need to be demonstrated to the City Council members.
It would cost taxpayers nothing. In fact, it would be a money-maker for a very long time.
This has to be a public effort, not just by those in the Walla Walla Gun Club by citizens.
I truly believe once city officials see the public is solidly behind this effort, we will finally get off dead-center. Goodness knows, this project is much needed and long overdue.
Bob Bloch is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Walla Walla Gun Club and a member of the East End Rod and Gun Club in Milton-Freewater. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.