Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 5, 2013

DNR and residents to discuss gun range

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com and BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — “Nonstop shooting.”

That’s how Beate Raffaele described noise that thunders from makeshift shooting ranges on public land near her home on Hoosier Valley Road 10 miles or so south of Traverse City.

She hears gunfire from rifles, pistols and semi-automatic weapons during the day and into the night. Sometimes gunshots are punctuated by loud booms from exploding targets. It goes beyond noise — even the traffic signs along the wooded dirt road far from the ranges are riddled with bullet holes, and she worries about her safety if she walks outside.

“I don’t think people who live on Hoosier Valley Road should be exposed to this shooting all the time,” Raffaele said. “I (used to) take medicine so I can sleep. I shouldn’t have to do that.”

Noise and bullets flying from the informal shooting ranges on state land have long bothered many Hoosier Valley, Blair Town Hall and Vance roads homeowners, as well as those who live in Lamar Estates. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources plans a public meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Blair Township Hall to hear from residents who live near the ranges, as well as those who use the ranges for target practice.

“We’re hearing a number of concerns,” said Bill O’Neill, chief of the DNR’s forest resource division. “They range from locals on Hoosier Valley Road who say it’s not safe; it affects the quality of life; and is an intrusion on residential life. We’re also hearing from folks on the shooting range that it’s a source of legal recreation.”

Dave Cook, a gunsmith and gun shop owner, has lived on Hoosier Valley Road for 16 years and notes the range has been there close to 53 years -- longer than any of his neighbors. It’s one of the few ranges in the region Cook said it has become busier over the years. Semi-automatic weapons’ fire, especially in the evening and after dark, makes it impossible for people to enjoy the night.

“There’s a lot of respectable people who use that range, but a lot of idiots, too,” Cook said. “They need to get some shooting hours on it or close it down.”

O’Neill said the meeting’s purpose is to obtain input from people on all sides of the issue and perhaps find a solution to concerns.

The DNR’s attention to the matter has been a long time coming, said Blair Township Supervisor Patrick Pahl. He lives a mile south of the ranges and says he’s “directly affected” by the noise.

“I’ve been getting complaints for the past six years,” he said. “I refer them to the DNR because Blair Township doesn’t control it at all.”

Hoosier Valley Road resident Sara Gindin, a lifetime National Rifle Association member, believes the shooting ranges are unsafe.

She worries about ricochets from metal targets or stray bullets from undisciplined shooters. Sometimes, when the ranges are full, she’s seen people shoot in the trees and utility right-of-ways near the houses. She said her daughter, who is blind, would have to walk past the shooting ranges to get to a new bus stop because Traverse City Area Public Schools plans to cut bus service down the bumpy, unpaved road starting next year.

“To walk past the ranges is unsafe,” she said.

Cook, a certified range safety officer, said he’s seen some dangerous occurrences at the range -- but dangerous to other shooters, not the public. Bullets that hit metal targets flatten like an egg hitting a wall, Cook said. But bullets going through paper targets that hit the hill behind tend to ricochet upward, he said.

Cook suggests the DNR close one of the three shooting ranges on the site because it’s too close to residential areas. He also wants state officials to carve out the hill to create a flat back-drop for targets.

O’Neill said meeting input could lead to new regulations or uses for the land, but the DNR is going to let the public speak before decisions are made. A set of rules for the area that designate shooting hours, permissible targets and firearms is being considered.

Raffaele said she hopes any decision takes into account the people who live around the ranges.

“This shouldn’t be in a residential area,” she said.