Neighbors’ fears of errant arrows and bullets have suburban officials concerned about the safety of an expanding gun club and an archery range in proximity to parks, trails and homes.
Sports enthusiasts, however, said the facilities in South St. Paul and Chanhassen are already safe — and that they can’t afford to lose outdoor practice facilities when shooting and archery are becoming more popular.
In Chanhassen, the city-owned archery range at Lake Susan Park was closed in June after residents found arrows on their property and city officials deemed the range unsafe.
The Parks and Recreation Commission initially recommended it close permanently, but later voted to explore installing a removable backstop-like structure to catch wayward arrows.
Linda Boerboom of Chanhassen said she discovered an arrow in her front yard “pointing straight up and down,” and it wasn’t the first.
“That’s scary — I have children and pets,” Boerboom said. “It’s a danger to our neighborhood.”
Similar concerns were voiced in Inver Grove Heights, where the privately owned South St. Paul Rod and Gun Club abuts a city park and regional trail.
The gun club wants to build a firing shed on its new outdoor rifle and pistol range.
Though the gun club is 81 years old and some of its 700 members are from Inver Grove Heights, a few residents are troubled that the range is so close to a city park and regional trail.
“I am concerned about any stray bullets,” said Jim Fyksen, who walks near the club. “There’s been no guarantee from anybody here that … it’s 100 percent safe.”
Others said that yes, the facilities are safe. It’s a common misconception that shooting and archery facilities are dangerous, said Terry Nelson, Oklahoma’s 4-H shooting sports coordinator.
George Stockburger Jr., the gun club’s vice president, said the new range was designed by an architect with shooting range expertise.
Still, the city of Inver Grove Heights wrote a letter to the city of South St. Paul objecting to several aspects of the gun range and adding recommendations to make it safer and quieter.
The club made several suggested changes, but didn’t acquiesce to the biggest request: to change the orientation of the gun range, away from parks and trails.
South St. Paul granted the club a conditional use permit, with two council members voting against the permit, citing safety reasons.
Archery has been growing in Minnesota for the last decade, said Kraig Kiger, the state Department of Natural Resources’s shooting sports coordinator.
Resident Verdell Borth created his own proposal to keep the Chanhassen range open, suggesting the installation of a roof or baffles.
“It’s very, very difficult for archers to find adequate [archery] practice facilities in the southwest metro,” Borth said.
Diana Withers, an archery coach from Eden Prairie who practices at the Chanhassen range, said it hurts her to hear that archery is perceived as unsafe: “Safety is the number one thing we teach our students.”
Among youths, pistol shooting as a sport has been growing, Stockburger said, and the South St. Paul Rod and Gun Club’s expansion was driven by the additional revenue the range would bring.
Elsewhere in the metro area, the Jordan City Council in 2015 debated putting an archery range in Lagoon Park, which backs up to residential property, but the park’s neighbors said it would be too dangerous, said Laura Holey, a Jordan city planner.
Burnsville has relocated its archery range three times over the years when nearby development made each location unsafe, said JJ Ryan, Burnsville’s recreation and facilities director.
The Chanhassen Parks and Recreation Commission is discussing ways to make the archery range safer, including the cost and feasibility of adding a portable enclosure, at its Sept. 27 meeting.
But in Inver Grove Heights, Mayor George Tourville said there is little the city can do to affect the South St. Paul gun club’s plans, besides being a “very, very interested abutting neighbor.”
South St. Paul already approved the gun club’s permits, despite the objections of some Inver Grove Heights residents.
“We have a gun range pointed at us,” said Joe McBride of Inver Grove Heights.
If Inver Grove Heights “were building a range on the border and pointing it at South St. Paul, I think there would be a similar response.”