Wasilla considers building shooting range
CITY OWNED: Ordinance proposed that would allow an outdoor facility.


(02/24/09 17:19:29)

WASILLA -- In the hometown of Gov. Sarah Palin, who was lauded last year for being able to field-dress a moose, hunters have long despaired for a place to sight in their rifles.
Now, Wasilla officials are considering building a city-owned range, perhaps at the Wasilla Multi-Use Sports Complex, and have put forward rules that would allow others to build ranges in Wasilla too.
Jim Holycross, city planner at Wasilla, said residents visit his office to complain about the lack of shooting ranges a half-dozen times or so each year. Craig Pell, whose family owns Chimo Guns, said his yearly complaint count is in the thousands.
"The mayor is behind this, and a lot of people in the community have wanted one for a long time," Holycross said of plans to build a range in Wasilla.
Mat Valley Sportsmen runs an indoor pistol range near Palmer. Grouse Ridge, off Wasilla-Fishhook Road, is a shotgun range. Upper Susitna Shooters runs an outdoor range at Mile 94.5 Parks Highway open to all shooters. Another range is being discussed in the Knik River Public Use Area but has not yet been built. But beyond those options, Pell said, shooters must travel to Anchorage or elsewhere to sight in a rifle or target shoot legally and safely.
Wasilla Planning Commission last week recommended approval for an ordinance that would allow outdoor shooting ranges to be built within the city. A public hearing at the City Council has not yet been scheduled.
The measure includes stipulations: ranges could be built only in industrial and public zones with a permit and would be prohibited in residential and commercial zones. Twenty acres is the minimum lot size allowed, and setbacks from property lines and housing are required. Safety features are a must.
The ordinance would let any landowner who owns more than 20 acres build a range, but Wasilla Public Works director Archie Giddings said the city could be the first applicant.
Giddings said the city has a monstrous berm of dirt near the municipal sports complex on South Mack Drive. The dirt is excess from site development that was shoved to the side. If the outdoor-range ordinance passes, Giddings said that dirt might become the backdrop for an outdoor range.
The site is ideal because there's little housing nearby, he said. He is analyzing site plans to make sure adding a range wouldn't interfere with development plans near there.
Holycross said trees and the dirt berm would help buffer sound. Design details such as roofed shooting shelters would prevent shots that travel too high and fall outside the range, he said. And the range would have a range manager when it was open.
"Safety, safety, safety is the big deal with an outdoor shooting range," he said.
Giddings said city officials have discussed contracting out range manager duties. He said plans for the range are in very early stages, however, and he didn't have an estimate of how much it would cost to build or run.
"We haven't even identified a budget for it yet," he said.