JACKSONVILLE — Chuck Woodson said he can think of two main sports children and grandparents can participate in together: shooting and fishing. Both are available at the new Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex, which opened earlier this year.
“This is for everybody,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for The Natural State.”
Woodson works for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission as coordinator for the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program. He also served on the board that helped formulate the plans for the new shooting complex.
The complex has been open since January and features 14 trap fields, a fully stocked catfish pond, two pavilions and a 5,100-square-foot clubhouse with a learning center and pro shop.
The $4 million facility came about through a partnership between the city of Jacksonville and the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting hunting, fishing and conservation education for young Arkansans.
“The facility itself is to promote conservation,” said Lori Lynch, the foundation’s chief operating officer. “Our mission in building this was to get kids outdoors.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation committed to paying $2 million toward the cost of the facility. The capital campaign to raise the money was launched in September 2013, and by February 2014, half of the money had been raised.
“We now have raised $1.3 million of the $2 million,” Lynch said. “We set the campaign to end in five years, so we are going to make it. We have no doubt.”
Phase 1 of the plans has been completed with the newly constructed facility. Phase 2 includes an RV park and a 3-D archery range, and beyond that, there are other opportunities for growth.
“The growth potential is here,” Lynch said.
Growth is what actually led to the idea of building the new facility. The Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program had outgrown its previous location. The program was started in 2006 with 900 children. This year, 6,000 children are participating, and the number is expected to jump to 10,000 over the next five years.
Woodson said he has seen how participation in shooting sports has helped kids gain confidence, make friends and stay in school so they can continue participating on the team.
“I’ve got story after story after story,” he said. “We have several really good athletes in the program, but we really reach out to a diverse demographic.”
The shooting athletes come from various social circles. While they may not have become friends in the traditional school setting, their group of friends expands on the shooting field to include different kinds of kids.
“Now they’re on a team together,” Woodson said. “They see each other in school, in the cafeteria, and they say hi. They talk shooting. They wouldn’t be doing that without this sport.”
Additionally, the athletes learn about the kinds of things the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission does for the state.
“Every athlete is exposed to hunter education,” Lynch said. “Just exposing kids to the work of a state agency means a lot.”
The complex is expected to be beneficial for the city of Jacksonville. With 6,000 kids participating from across the state — plus the average 2.5 nonshooters who arrive with them — local hotels and restaurants are expected to reap benefits from the new facility.
“The economic impact to the city is impressive,” Lynch said.
In the offseason, Woodson said, the complex’s meeting rooms, patio and grilling area are good places for corporate meetings and events.
The facility, at 2800 Graham Road, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Call (501) 241-2441 to schedule use of the range or rental of the learning center and pavilions.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or email@example.com.