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Funding help lets Warren gun range's expansion move ahead

by Special to The Commercial | April 26, 2021 at 2:05 a.m.
A skeet- and trap-shooting enthusiast is shown in this undated file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Shooting enthusiasts and hunters will soon have a place to hone their skills in southeast Arkansas.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently decided to enter into a new subgrant agreement with the city of Warren to expand the existing shooting range, according to the Arkansas Wildlife Weekly Newsletter.

The existing range, owned and operated by the city, currently has three fields for trap and skeet shooting but lacks any facilities to shoot rifles or handguns. The proposed expansion is to create a 10-lane, 100-yard facility to safely shoot these longer-range firearms, according to the newsletter.

Commissioners voted unanimously to enter the subgrant agreement totaling $870,640.08, using up to $783,576 in federal grant funds provided through the Wildlife Restoration Program.

Originally set with a grant limit of $400,000 in 2016, the Warren range expansion received no construction bids low enough to be completed under budget.

"All bids for dirt work and construction combined were much higher than anticipated, and that gave some of the city officials at the time pause," said Grant Tomlin, assistant chief of the AGFC's Education Division.

Federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Act grants enable the AGFC to partner with local communities for shooting-range development with a 90% federal reimbursement, but Warren needed to provide the other 10% of the funding.

"The lowest bid at the time was more than $1 million," Tomlin said. "Even 10% of that is a lot of money for a small town to come up with. We needed to find ways to reduce the cost of the project."

Tomlin said the cost was substantially reduced by decreasing the size of the range from a 200-yard rifle/pistol range with 15 shooting stations to a 10-station, 100-yard rifle/pistol range. The project also was bid out in component parts to enable more opportunities for the city to get in-kind donations to make up their part of the matching funds.

"The University of Arkansas at Monticello has agreed to do a portion of the dirt work through their Heavy Equipment Operator Training Academy," Tomlin said. "That, and the funding provided through the city, should cover the matching requirement for the larger budget."

These changes decreased the estimated cost of the project to just over $870,000, and nearly half of the needed matching funds were accounted for with UAM's in-kind contribution. With the approval of the increased subgrant amount at the commission meeting, the project can now move forward.

"Mayor Denisa Pennington has been the driving force to get this moving again," Tomlin said. "She sees the value in the range for people in her area as well as the surrounding towns who need a range. South Arkansas has a lot of deer hunters, and this range will be able to help them with a safe place to enjoy sighting in their rifles. It will also be a location where our regional educator and shooting sports coaches can expand beyond teaching just shotgunning skills."

Tomlin said the AGFC is always looking for ways to improve shooting opportunities through partnership ranges like the Warren range project. While the AGFC does not have the staff to operate any additional ranges, it can act on behalf of partners that are willing to maintain and operate such facilities, according to the newsletter.

"The Wildlife Restoration Act gathers excise taxes from all manufacturers of firearms and ammunition, and recent changes to the act enable us to build shooting ranges with a 90% federal reimbursement," Tomlin said. "If towns or organizations can help find the matching funds and maintain and operate such facilities for public use, we can work with them to try and make it happen."

Tomlin said he is focused on trying to find partners in the northwest part of the state.

"We have half a million people in Northwest Arkansas with limited public options for shooting since the range at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area had to temporarily close for safety precautions," Tomlin said. "[The Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism] is in the process of making improvements to Hobbs and reopen it, but that portion of the state continues to grow, and we want to be able to serve them as well as the other communities across Arkansas."

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