Barbara Lawlor, Boulder and Gilpin Counties. Two weekends ago, a Denver family headed down the US Forest Road 359 in the Winiger Ridge Campground Area seeking a serene, scenic mountain setting. They had heard of accessible waterfalls, clear streams, and the fragrance of pine and minty summer foliage.
Their two young girls skipped ahead on the path, were tempted to but didn’t pick the wildflowers. When the loud booms came in quick succession, they froze in confusion and then began yelling, “Stop shooting, we’re here, don’t shoot.” The gunshots went on. The group hurried back to the trailhead and called the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and then left the Winiger Ridge Campground.
So much for their great day in the great outdoors.
BCSO mountain deputy Rik Henrikson received the call to respond to the area. With so many county miles to cover he knew it would be about an hour before he arrived at the trailhead. He’s been there before. So have many other mountain deputies.
As the Denver family made their exit, two young men headed down the same trail. One of them carried a guitar case slung over his shoulder; the other had a small back pack. They too were from Denver. Daniel, 21, and Evan, 18, had come to the area five months previous when a friend showed them a special spot where they could shoot.
They had originally intended to go up to Caribou, but when they arrived, people were everywhere. “We didn’t want to scare anyone,” said Daniel. His guitar case carried a shotgun. Evan’s back pack had two handguns.
“When I go shooting with my less experienced friends, I don’t want them to shoot over something and not know where it’s going.”
Recently Daniel was shooting in the Sugar Loaf area when someone yelled to cease fire. The residents said they didn’t feel safe, so Daniel left. He says he understands their fear, but also is frustrated that he can’t enjoy a sport he loves without having people angry with him.
“Guns are a big part of American culture. I never took a safety course, but my brother is a police officer and has taught me. Our plan is to go way off the road and yell that we are going to be shooting. We make sure there’s a hill to stop the rounds. We are smart shooters, but I know there are people not in the best mind, who don’t weigh up the possible consequences.”
Both men agreed they would rather go to a designated shooting area, saying they knew it was legal to shoot on Forest Service land, but they also knew it was not cool, and didn’t want to freak people out.”
As they headed back to the trailhead, the dark skies let loose with the usual afternoon thunderstorm. So much for their day in the hills.
Just as they reached their car at the trailhead, Deputy Henrikson arrived to check out the shooting report, but there was no sign of the original reported shooters. This is typically the case when deputies are asked to respond to a gunshot call.
Two years ago, the Magnolia Road shooting area was closed to public target practice after Big Springs residents waged a successful battle to shut down the shooters. They specified the proximity to hiking trails and to the road, and the fact that the gunshots boomed over the houses in Big Springs, causing anxiety for the residents.
After the flood last September, the shooting area in Left Hand Canyon was shut down. In the spring a wildland fire in the Sugar Loaf area was caused by shooters igniting incendiary devices on the targets.
In the last few months, Winiger Ridge, County Road 68, Pine Glade, and Twin Sisters residents have set up a network of information concerning the many shooting incidents that have taken place in the area north of Gross Reservoir.
Live trees have been cut in half by rapid fire bullets. Butane lighters hanging from tree branches have been exploded. Hikers have felt the zing of close shots and seen the pieces of rock chipped near their feet. They are considering suing the forest service, sending petitions to the legislature, hiring an attorney—anything to stop of barrage of dangerous noisy attacks on their lifestyle and safety.
All sides of the issue want some answers, some solutions to the shooting interface problems that will only escalate as gunfire and residents each become more prevalent. The need for a safe area to shoot has become one of the Forest Service’s priorities.
This Thursday, July 24, there will be a public hearing on potential designated shooting sites at the Gilpin County Recreational Center at 6:30 p.m. On July 11, a map of potential shooting rates sites was presented to the public, saying that the process was in the beginning stages.
Sports shooting options are being considered in Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, and Larimer Counties. Thursday’s meeting will consider the Emory Road site in Gilpin County, off of South Beaver Road, midpoint on National Forest Land. One of the biggest concerns is access impacts on county roads and neighborhoods.
Some residents are already saying they will move if the site goes through, citing child safety, noise, and traffic impacts.
Gilpin County Commissioner Gail Watson says, “I don’t personally find Emory Road viable but it fits the criteria for a shooting range. Now we have reached the common sense and resident input part.”