Local citizens, elected leaders and representatives of N.C. Wildlife Commission met at McDowell Technical Community College on Tuesday to discuss McDowell’s proposed shooting range.

The informational meeting focused on the development of a shooting range on Ashworth Road in Marion.

McDowell County Commission Chairman David Walker talked about project’s early stages and economic potential.

“In January 2016, our board voted to have staff contact state officials, and the public got involved and made calls, and we voted 5-0 to move forward with the shooting range,” said Walker. “This range was fought in Burke County. McDowell didn’t fight this range, McDowell recruited for this range. We believe that we need a place where sportsmen, kids – we’ve got a lot of young men and women alike who take part in active competition – can build their skills. This will be a draw. Local people will use it, there’s people coming in from out of the county to use it, so we’re very excited.”

Among other agencies and organizations in favor of the range include McDowell Economic Development Association, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce, the county Planning Board, and Sen. Ralph Hise, who voiced his support via letter.

On behalf of the state wildlife commission, Chief Engineer Gary Gardner discussed the plan for the range: a 100-yard rifle range, a 25-yard pistol range, a potential 3D cross-country course, shooting shelters and a series of safety features. The location is currently proposed at the intersection of Ashworth Road and I-40.

“Our goal is to have an accessible shooting range for everyone within a 35- to 45-mile radius from their house,” said Gardner.

During the meeting, Bryan Dick, a representative for Freese and Nichols, Inc. (FNI), addressed potential sound issues for nearby property and residences.

“There’s two fundamental problems with shooting ranges that the public has against them. One is safety, which is fairly easily designed around, to be safe laterally for shooters on each side and where the bullets end up, and the other is sound.”

FNI and the state wildlife commission conducted a sound study last November at the proposed location, pinpointing three tests sites approximate to the range – two churches and a nearby pond area – and determining quantitative and qualitative disturbances based on shots fired by a pistol and a rifle, both separately and a volley similar to a typical practice session.

“We felt like we didn’t have a sound problem that reached nuisance levels,” said Dick, “and by far the noisiest levels came from the road. As far as our notes, subjectively, we weren’t able to hear any of the shots.”

During public comments, a majority of those who spoke favored the range, complementing the wildlife commission and county government for the project.

Chad Ray, extension agent with 4-H Youth Development, reflected on the county’s need for a shooting range in the wake of urban development.

“I grew up in Burnsville, and people shot on their farm or at their grandparents and all that. Houses started to come in and with losing land, you can’t really do that anymore,” said Ray. “In our program, we’ve got 60 to 70 kids every year who shoot, but when they want to go home and shoot, very few of them have a place to do that. So this is like baseball, football, any other kind of sport, and we as a public don’t have much of a place for them to practice their game.”

Rick Wilson, a property owner adjacent to the range, spoke against the site and asked about any environmental impact during development.

“What about any damage to the wetlands on the property?” asked Wilson.

Steven Bailey, a member of the wildlife commission, stressed that an environmental study had been performed to meet federal regulations, saying, “Where the actual range is situated right now, we’re proposing for it to go on the higher area of the site, so I wouldn’t anticipate any wetlands issues there.”

By the end of the discussion, the question was raised as to when the site would be available to the public.

“That’s kind of the million dollar question,” said Gardner. “There are a lot of approvals we have to go through and grants and federal funding, and then the design permitting phase. Realistically, I’d say two years out.”

For more information on the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission’s sound and environmental studies on the proposed site, go to http://ncwildlife.org/Outdoor-Activities/Shooting-Ranges/Proposed-Shooting-Ranges.