GFP takes aim at firearms complex

Leslie Silverman
The S.D. Game Fish and Parks (GFP) Rapid City Firearms Complex is beginning to take shape. A recently held on-site presentation showed the vision for the 400-acre site 10 miles north of I-90 on Elk Vale Road. 
The raw land, which was purchased for $1 million, boasts a rolling topography essential to create interesting sight lines for shooters and natural ridges for collecting bullets. 
The proposed complex will be open year-round and include two areas. The south end range will be free for public use. It will feature a 50-yard range with six bays, each offering five lanes. Each lane will be 10 feet wide with a side boundary of eight feet. Side berm height will be at a 12-foot minimum and  a 20-foot minimum on the end. A similar configuration will exist for a 100-yard range.
The 200-300-yard shooting area will have 40 shooting positions and will be primarily for rifle shooters. 
A stationary shotgun clay target area will be available that can accommodate 40 shooting positions. The long-range area will allow marksmen to shoot at least 1,200 yards in a northeast orientation into the site’s hillside. There will be 20 shooting positions in this range. A hunter education building, which can be used by multiple groups for varying purposes such as hunt safe classes or a clubhouse for shooting clubs, is also included in the project. The building will house staff offices and potentially air rifle or archery lanes.
Green spaces, shade trees, picnic areas and vault toilets will make the area aesthetically inspiring and family friendly. ADA accessible areas will be included in the project.
The north end section will have a separate entrance. While the public will have an opportunity to reserve time in this area, its main focus will be to serve regional law enforcement agencies. Seventeen action bays will allow opportunities for tactical shoots. A versatile training area will also be constructed. 
The new space will allow agencies to simulate traffic stops and a variety of real life scenarios. Currently many law enforcement officers find themselves shooting at Beretta Road between Keystone and Hill City. The new complex is about a one-hour drive from that location.
The north end plan also includes a sporting clay area with 12 stations proposed.
The north end will be dug into a valley and the berms around the newly built bays will create a safe space. There will be baffling to take the skyline out. The department anticipates there will be no chance of bullets leaving the range. If needed, there is room for future expansion.
Drainage considerations have been addressed, with gravel roads throughout the complex and slightly tilted bays.
“We’re gonna build the finest firearm range in South Dakota,” said John Kanta, terrestrial section chief with the S.D. Game Fish and Parks. Kanta believes the new complex is going to be one of the best ranges in the nation and possibly one of the  largest. 
“We’re building something really cool here,”  he said.
Kanta envisions the site will attract people from all walks of life.
“This is gonna serve folks from Rapid City. That mom who might want to take some kids and go pop a few rounds through a pistol to folks who are getting ready to go hunting and want to sight in their hunting rifles all the way to experienced long range shooters and even competitions.”
The $10 million project is intended to drive economic activity into the region and to lessen the burden the Black Hills National Forest receives for this type of activity. 
“Parts of this range are going to be open and  free to the public year-round. So anytime somebody wants to go out and shoot, they’re going to have a place to shoot. And it’s gonna be organized and safe. It’s gonna be somewhere they won’t be up in the Hills throwing tannerite out and blowing stuff up,” Kanta said. 
Revenue from  the north end  site, in the form of user group fees for competitions, could generate $5,000 to $10,000 per event. While GFP is looking to staff the complex with volunteers to keep costs low, it is working on what an annual budget for operation and maintenance of the facility will look like. A projected budget of $250,000 annually which would include paid staffing is not out of the question. 
The agency is open to funding ideas for the project and is looking at grant opportunities. It is even considering donations to name the range or some or all of the bays. It is forming partnerships with industry retailers, law enforcement agencies, manufacturers and private individuals to help with funding. In-kind donations are being accepted as well.
“In the Black Hills here we have 100,000 people and growing considerably,” said Mike Klosowski,  regional wildlife supervisor with GFP. “Right now when we’re at the Rapid City GFP office and they call and they ask, ‘Where can I go shoot,’ we can send them to some locations like Forest Service property, pack it in, pack it out. Of course with an area that has 100,000 people, it becomes pretty evident where those places are really quickly. With this project we’re really going to have a one-of-a-kind place to send those people.”
A spring 2022 start date is expected for the project with a fall 2022 completion. When finished  it will be one of the premiere shooting complexes in the country.
Data suggests  about 5,393 residents of  Pennington County participated regularly in shooting sports in the last year. The statewide participation rate in South Dakota is 5.5 percent of the total population. The complex may increase participation rates in the county by about 865 people. Participants in the county spend on average $11,325,300 annually. The facility would provide an estimated increase of anywhere between $1,038,000 to $2,595,000 of revenue each year to Pennington County.

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