Bayfield resident Amanda O’Connor doesn’t walk with her 4-year-old daughter on the Animas River Trail behind Walmart anymore because she said the sound of gunfire makes the little girl nervous.
“Brooklyn will actually cover her ears when the shooting is going on, and it just gives her anxiety and makes her a little bit scared,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor supports Durango resident Julie Bach’s grass-roots movement to pressure La Plata County and the city of Durango to move the outdoor gun range from its current location on La Posta Road (County Road 213) south of Bodo Industrial Park to somewhere more remote. She and a dozen volunteers collected 153 signatures on a petition she gave to city and county officials.
Bach said the gun range subjects residents living, working or recreating nearby to loud, repetitive gunshots, disturbing and scaring people and dogs. She said the signers of the petition don’t object to residents having and using guns, just the noise.
“We thought maybe farther down La Posta Road, some place more rural, would be great,” Bach said. “Law enforcement, they definitely need to train, but just not in the heart of the city limits out here.”
The outdoor gun range is not within city limits. Rather, it’s on county property south of city limits. The city of Durango has no jurisdiction over it, said Greg Hoch, director of Durango Community Development.
The range is run by the Durango Gun Club, a private, members-only organization that allows some public access to the outside range. The gun club also operates an indoor range near Chapman Hill in the city.
La Plata County commissioners have studied the petition Bach sent them.
Commissioner Bobby Lieb said the county is trying to create an appropriate gun range for law-enforcement training.
“That is what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish,” he said.
The club gives law enforcement officers a place to train on the outdoor range, and shooting also takes place at night and on weekends.
The gun club leases the land from the county for $1 a year. The first lease was signed in 1979 for 20 years and then renewed in 1998 for 20 more years, expiring in 2018. The contract can be terminated by the board of county commissioners, but it has to attempt to move the club to a new space.
County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said the county is struggling with whether it’s practical to move the range. The county has looked for other sites to build a new gun range that would have less of a noise impact but was unable to find a suitable location.
“I certainly think there are shortcomings to the current location; however, there are also some strong points to it,” she said.
Bach is a volunteer for the La Plata County Humane Society on South Camino del Rio and said about 50 percent of the dogs at the shelter are afraid of the noise.
“It’s hard to walk behind the shelter on the pretty Animas River Trail with the dogs – they’re trembling, they’re terrified, they don’t want to go back there. It’s just scary for them,” she said. “It’s a shame.”
However, Chris Nelson, the Humane Society’s director of animal services, disagrees with Bach. Nelson said that because some sound modifications were made a few years ago, a very small percentage of dogs at the shelter are bothered by the shooting. Bach started the petition on her own, he said.
“I’d say it’s no more than one or two of the dogs that are here at any given time,” he said.
Durango’s Parks & Recreation Department has not received any noise complaints about the Animas River Trail, said Director Cathy Metz.
Durango and La Plata County have budgeted $225,000 each this year to build another outdoor range at the La Posta site, but County Manager Joe Kerby said he doubted construction would start this year.
“Any new gun range would have noise mitigation built into it,” Westendorff said. “We don’t want to exacerbate that problem.”