Snohomish County takes new aim at shooting range near Sultan

SULTAN — A long-awaited public shooting range in east Snohomish County is undergoing another change in plans.

Land the county acquired more than six years ago turned out to be too small to build the gun and archery facilities envisioned for the Sky Valley Shooting Park. Now, county officials are eyeing a larger piece of property on the other side of Sultan Basin Road, a few miles outside of Sultan. At more than four times the size, they hope the new parcel will be able to handle a wider variety of shooting sports, with less of an impact on neighbors.

“It’s a little closer to town and there’s better access off of Sultan Basin Road,” parks director Tom Teigen said.

To make it happen, the county needs to request a transfer of state-managed trust land. The County Council could give the go-ahead at its 9 a.m. meeting on Wednesday. The decision is on the council’s consent agenda, meaning there’s unlikely to be much debate.

The quest to build a public shooting range in the area has been ongoing since the 1970s.

The property switch won’t speed up the timeline, but local backers say it’s the right thing to do.

“We needed a bigger space and we needed it to be farther away from neighbors,” Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick said.

“This property will be so much better,” said Debbie Copple, director of the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not unhappy about the way this is going. I think big picture, this will be way better for a lot of people.”

Ideally, the range could accommodate all of the Olympic shooting sports, including skeet and trap shooting. That could make it a good venue for competitions, Copple said.

The range, she hopes, also might cut down on some of the target practice at random spots along U.S. 2. Copple said people stop by the visitor center in Sultan regularly to ask where they can target shoot or sight a rifle.

An organized venue could be designed to improve safety, cut down on noise and limit pollution from spent rounds.

In late 2010, construction on the range appeared to be only a couple of years away, perhaps, after the county secured 146 acres from the state Department of Natural Resources. The state deeded the parcel to the county through a process known as reconveyance. The state had been managing the forest in trust for the county to generate logging revenue for local and state governments. It’s roughly 6 miles north of U.S. 2.

Some neighbors strongly opposed the plans for building the range on that site, and briefly pursued a lawsuit against the county. The nearby Lake Bronson Club Family Nudist Park led the efforts, with objections to potential noise and pollution.

Plans moved ahead, but more slowly than many shooting enthusiasts wanted. When county officials pored over surveys and more detailed park plans, they realized the site wouldn’t work out. On closer inspection, a stream and other wetlands would have left much of the land unusable, Teigen said.

The new site should address those shortcomings, the parks director said. It measures 640 acres and lies south of the other location. A timber harvest is still expected to occur on part of the site next year, even if the county takes control.

The county has budgeted $100,000 to process the land transfer, but expects the actual amount to be much less, Teigen said. The county intends to deed the other property back to the state. Private companies are expected to build out and operate the ranges.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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