- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

HELENA, Mont.

Erosion by wind and water is a big part of the story at Makoshika State Park, a place of badlands and dinosaur fossils, bobcats and bluebirds. Now some people who enjoy firing guns at a range there fear erosion of what they have come to view as an entitlement.

The state parks agency plans to eliminate a decades-old rifle range at Makoshika, a rolling expanse of peculiar sandstone formations in eastern Montana. The 11,500-acre park gets about 54,000 visits a year, and is especially popular among gun enthusiasts in Glendive, Mont., about a quarter-mile from the rifle range and its plywood targets.

“Things have changed,” said Tom Reilly, an assistant administrator in the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Now we have a visitor center on one side and a public campground on the other.”

Shooting may disturb people who “come from New Jersey to camp and wake up to gunfire,” he said. “We may be used to that, living here, but others may not be.”

The state agency’s 10-year management plan for Makoshika calls for moving the shooting range, but no new site has been selected.

That concerns Glendive shooters such as Ernest Huether, who sells and repairs guns. He worries that the alternative to the state range will be a private one, with fees and a less convenient location.

Another shooter, Henry Mischel of the Dawson County Rod & Gun Club, said state planners should keep in mind that guns are a traditional part of life in Montana.

His response to concerns about visitors: “I don’t like the sound of sirens when I go to a big city, but I have to deal with it.”

Mr. Mischel said the rifle range has existed at least for the 50 years he has lived in Glendive. On a busy day, the range — passed by visitors heading to the park’s interior — draws dozens of shooters carrying handguns and rifles.

The new Makoshika plan, prepared after study of recommendations from a public advisory group, was approved late last year by Jeff Hagener, director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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