Law enforcement agencies in Southwest Colorado suffering from a lack of proper training grounds are looking for space for a new facility, an endeavor hamstrung by a lack of suitable land and money for construction.
On Monday, La Plata County commissioners and staff members heard a presentation of a months-long review process to identify possible locations for a new gun range, as well as what the cost may be to purchase the property and build the project.
“With this approach, we were taking a broad view and thinking big,” said La Plata County Manager Joanne Spina. “We may have to do it one step at a time.”
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office had an exclusive gun range until 2006, when it was closed to make room for a much-needed expansion of the county jail in Bodo Industrial Park, county officials said.
Since then, the Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Durango Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies, have used the Durango Gun Club range in Bodo Park for firearms training and practice.
But Sheriff Sean Smith said the Sheriff’s Office’s needs for training have outgrown the size and facilities of the Durango Gun Club, which has leased the county-owned 14.5 acres in Bodo Park since 1979.
“It’s critical for us to get a shooting range,” Smith said.
On top of the lack of a proper gun range, the Sheriff’s Office also recently lost access to a driver-training facility in Farmington, which allowed deputies to practice high-speed chases and other emergency traffic situations.
As a result, the planning for the new gun range also included other wish list facilities, such as a driving track, a possible indoor classroom and indoor shooting range, as well as room for firefighters to practice simulations.
For the study, Russell Planning and Engineering factored in a number of criteria, such as a minimum land size of 40 acres within a 30-minute drive of Durango, to identify specific properties that may be suitable for the range.
The study identified a gravel pit east of Durango on the north side of U.S. Highway 160 (county-owned), the Old Fort campus at Hesperus (owned by Fort Lewis College) and land adjacent to the Durango-La Plata County Airport (city/county-owned).
Private property on a reclaimed gravel pit between Lake Nighthorse and the Animas Airpark, as well as land owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife at the end of Sawyer Drive, were also considered.
However, with each property comes pros and cons, mostly associated with access and the cost of construction or infrastructure, said Russell Planning and Engineering’s senior planner, Nancy Lauro.
The study was also limited in the number of properties it could include because it did not take into consideration land that was adjacent to homes.
“You need it and everyone agrees you need it, but nobody wants it right next to them,” Lauro said.
Lauro provided cost estimates that included all the amenities in the so-called wish list, which ranged anywhere from $5 million to $8 million.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff reminded the room of the obvious financial straps the county is facing amid a continued downturn in oil and gas revenues.
“What course of action do we have when we don’t have any money?” Westendorff asked.
Spina said neither the county nor city of Durango have budgeted any funds for the pursuit or construction of a new gun range in the upcoming year.
But after first identifying a possible location, other funding opportunities, such as grants, as well as partnerships with other local and regional law agencies (such as Montezuma and Archuleta counties) could be pursued in 2019.
“It could be good to take a year to take stock of what we have ... then follow up with the board in 2019,” said public works and county engineer Jim Davis.
La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake agreed.
“It’s not an easy amount of money to come up with, but you have to start with a location,” Blake said.