- Associated Press - Sunday, April 29, 2018

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - A shooting center at Lake Carl Blackwell was approved by the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents more than a year ago, but the equestrians who have been building, maintaining and using a system of trails at the lake for decades say it’s news to them.

Trail Master Kate Kearby said a notice inviting public comment that ran in the Stillwater News Press beginning April 6 was the first time the group heard the project was becoming a reality. Although the proposed site of the shooting complex cuts right through their system of looped trails, the Lake Carl Blackwell Equestrians were not consulted or warned and they have serious concerns, the Stillwater News Press reported .

“We heard rumors but thought ‘Surely not,’” Kearby said. “It was like a shock. That’s probably the reason we’re so emotional and upset.”

An environmental assessment for the shooting range is being prepared and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has applied for a grant to build the project under the Wildlife Restoration Program.

According to the application for funding, there aren’t enough public gun ranges to meet the needs of gun owners and shooters, and Lake Carl Blackwell’s location off the I-35 corridor makes it easily accessible.

“There is a need for hunters and shooters to have a location to hone their skills,” the application said.

The shooting facility being proposed would cover 358 fenced acres with an archery range, two rifle ranges, a pistol range, a sporting clay course, four skeet fields, three skeet or trap fields and four trap fields along with amenities like parking and restrooms. It would be open to the public and would play host to community trainings, hunter safety programs and other events. The projected cost for the first phase is about $415,000.

Future phases of the project would include a conservation center, nature trail, two sporting clay courses, a FITASC shooting competition parcours, 3-D archery and a pavilion with restrooms.

Brett Enmeir, a construction project manager at OSU’s Department of Long Range Facilities and Planning, said people had been talking about the project for about a year before it was approved and that he expected it to bring new opportunities to the Stillwater area, according to an article posted March 9, 2017 on Loyal & True, a website dedicated to OSU news.

Bids would be taken from private companies to operate the range under a lease agreement, Loyal & True reported.

“The plan is to bring in competitions for 4-H and other national organizations,” Enmeir said. “The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation would also make use of the range.”

Founding members of the Lake Carl Blackwell equestrian group have been making use of the trails the shooting complex would disrupt since the 1960s or 1970s, Kearby said. The system has been improved and expanded by the group over the years to provide a variety of terrains and suit a variety of skill levels.

“When I started working on them 16 years ago, we had about 15 miles of trails,” Kearby said. “Now we have over 50 miles … We have a variety of trails, including a beginner trail. I can put 9-year-old kids on it, I can put a fresh, green horse out there and train it … We have trails for the beginner to the most advanced.”

In addition to 50 miles of trails, the riding area includes a camping spot at the trailhead called Hunt’s Meadow that offers primitive camp sites and 19 camp sites with electricity, water, picnic tables and hitching posts. It also has a wash bay for horses and a pavilion for group gatherings.

The equestrian group hosts a number of events at the lake throughout the year from casual rides to competitions for almost any age or skill level. They also have regular work days to maintain the trails.

“We’re a bunch of volunteers working really hard to take care of what we love,” Kearby said.

She and other members of the group have been gathering on their Lake Carl Blackwell Equestrians Facebook page to share their concerns and talk about what they can do to prevent the range from ruining their peaceful enjoyment of the recreational area they’ve worked to develop.

They’re upset about having their trails cut off and worried that it won’t be safe, especially for less experienced riders, because loud gunshots could spook their horses. The riding area at Lake Carl Blackwell attracts riders from other states as well as across Oklahoma.

“We’ve had people from Alabama and California come for events,” Kearby said. “We’ve had snowbirds stop for a week or two . Most of my volunteers are out of Kansas. They don’t have anything they like to ride nearly as much.”

Some members of the group have made it clear they don’t have a problem with the range in principle, they just object to its location.

The comment period for the grant opened April 6 and ended April 20.


Information from: Stillwater News Press, http://www.stwnewspress.com

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