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Can Shooters And Hikers Coexist? Forest Service Wants To Find The Balance

Stephanie Paige Ogburn
An official at the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest speaks with citizens about a proposal to limit recreational shooting on the forest.

The Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest's 1.4 million acres cover the Front Range foothills and climb into the mountains of north central Colorado. As more people use the forest and build homes in the private land checkered between its boundaries, conflicts between recreational shooters and other forest users are increasing.

That's why the Forest Service officials are proposing a forest-wide plan to manage where shooting enthusiasts can and cannot fire their guns. It would be the first such plan in the nation.

In recent years, forest officials have received more and more complaints from hikers and homeowners, said Josh Milligan, a planner with the forest.

"People saying, 'at my house I heard gunfire, a bullet went by,' and things like that," said Milligan.

At recent open houses in Nederland, Idaho Springs, and Fort Collins, hundreds of people showed up to learn about the proposal and share their input.

Deb Wall, a recreational camper, said she was getting "upset" about the gun shooting in the woods. She has been camping in Colorado for 60 years, but says this is a new problem.

"People just seem to think they can shoot guns all day long anywhere in the woods," said Wall.

She is not opposed to hunting or shooting, but is concerned for her safety and the safety of others.

"I'm getting upset because I have rights also," she said. "I do have a right to quiet enjoyment out in the woods, which is what I go there for.

Others at the open house expressed concern over the proposal, saying it closes some of their favorite shooting areas.

Justin King, a Loveland Boy Scout troop leader who takes scouts into the woods to teach them gun safety, was worried that the proposal closes off the areas they have traditionally used.

"I think their approach to this is a little aggressive, they are closing everything basically from Highway 34 down to Gilpin County," said King.

The proposed closures along the Front Range foothills are significant and make up the majority of the forest land that would become off limits to free-range shooting. In part because of the many homes scattered throughout the forest on private land, said the Forest Service's Milligan.

Others at the Fort Collins forum were generally happy with the proposal, but still had suggestions. Peter Price is a hiker and a recreational shooter who said he has watched informal shooting areas, like Left Hand canyon, get built up to the point where it is no longer appropriate to shoot in those locations.

In its draft plan, forest officials propose building two shooting ranges, one in Boulder and one in Clear Creek County. Price planned to comment on the location of those ranges and ask for one in Larimer County as well.

The National Forest is accepting comments on its plan until Sept. 19. You can read and comment on the plan on their website.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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