State decision aids proposal for gun range near Sultan

SULTAN — A plan to establish a public gun range along Sultan Basin Road cleared an initial hurdle Tuesday, when the state agreed to give Snohomish County more than 150 acres of forestland.

The state Board of Natural Resources made the unanimous 6-0 decision in Olympia.

County parks staff expects to start drawing up plans for the range early next year. That will happen once the land’s title is transferred, a process that should take a couple of months.

The board’s decision heartened shooting enthusiasts who have championed a public range for decades, as well as public officials who see the range as a potential economic boon for the U.S. 2 corridor. Though the proposed range would sit several miles outside Sultan’s borders, city officials believe it would bring new visitors and business to the area.

“The work has just begun,” said Steve Slawson, a Sultan city councilman. “We really want to work with our neighbors in that area to make it a quality park.”

Neighbors fear the county range would increase noise in the area and harm the environment with lead contamination. During Tuesday’s hearing, about eight people argued each side of the issue in public comments before the natural resources board.

Among the opponents was Jodi Halfhill, a member of the Lake Bronson Club, a nudist group based on scenic land about a mile from proposed range. Members of the club believe people need a place to shoot, but that Sultan Basin Road is the wrong place.

“We’re disappointed,” Halfhill said. “Now, the fight turns to the county. We’re kind of gearing up for that. We’ll make them jump through every hoop they have to jump through.”

The need for a public range has become more pressing, many say. Other popular shooting spots have closed, including a gravel pit on 116th Street SE, near Sultan Basin Road.

The land the state is giving to the county is a few miles farther up Sultan Basin Road from the gravel pit.

The parcel is among more than half million acres of public trust lands statewide that the state Department of Natural Resources has managed for counties since the 1920s. The potential gun range is buffered by state forestland, with the closest neighbors a mile or so away. Money from the land’s timber goes to support local governments.

The county expects to pay nothing for the land itself, only for the administrative costs of the transfer. To build the range, the county must comply with state environmental rules.

County Executive Aaron Reardon pledged that public and private investment would one day make the county range “one of the premier outdoor shooting facilities in the nation.”

“I have always supported this project and am pleased to see it finally moving forward,” Reardon said in a prepared statement. “This project has been discussed for more than 20 years and will provide a safe location for shooting enthusiasts and hobbyists to meet.”

The county has been working to improve and promote outdoor recreation along the U.S. 2 corridor in cooperation with the state DNR, state Parks Commission and the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce, as well as the cities of Sultan and Gold Bar.

For now, the county budget sets aside no money for the range. A six-year parks budget calls for $650,000 to develop the project.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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