The desires of a shooting club to grow – and the effects of that range on surrounding properties – brought out an hour of discussion March 3, during the Wadena County Board meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss approval of a resolution to amend a conditional use permit (CUP) for the Park Rapids Clay Dusters, doing business as R.D. Offutt-Huntersville Sportsmen’s Park. The permit was first approved in April 2018.
That this amendment is regarding a CUP that recently put the county, the shooting group and the nearby property owners through a court battle did not make the subject any easier.
The shooting club gained approval based on certain acceptable uses, but a club organizer said that it was the plan from the beginning to expand beyond those approved uses. Since starting operation in 2019, park member Burt Fosse said he’s been hearing consistent requests for expanded hours and more use beyond just high schoolers.
“No one denied that we would one day be open to the public,” Fosse said.
He added that the grant that they received to prepare the site requires that the range be open to the public at least one day a week. That’s minor, Fosse said, compared to nearby sites, like those in Wadena and Staples, which are open seven days a week.
“We are only going to be open when we are going to have people come out there to shoot,” Fosse said.
He said they are not yet open to the public because they are not ready. They have plans of building a clubhouse, 40 by 102 feet, which is much larger than the one described in the original CUP.
“We are very proud of what we are building there,” Fosse said. He added that the club has a focus on introducing youth to shooting sports, specifically going to the Olympic level.
Fosse brought the request forward, first to the planning and zoning commission, Feb. 20. That commission made findings of fact, but referred the decision to the county board.
The requested amendment looked at several areas, including expanding days of operation; clarifying that the site can be used at all times, but that there are specific hours for shooting; use of .22 rimfire and airguns includes rifles and pistols; all shooters must pass a firearms safety course and shooters under 18 must be supervised by responsible adult, but can participate in all venues offered at the range.
The request included one day a week for public shooting beyond the high school teams in the spring and fall. All summer hours were open to the public.
Wadena County Commissioner Jon Kangas took issue with changes to CUP. He said he was in favor of a shooting range like this, but did not think it was a good location considering the close proximity to public trails in the Huntersville State Forest and a nearby couple whose business relies on people looking for a peaceful place to ride horses.
Those property owners, Tami and Randy Wenthold, spoke during a public comment period related to the effects of the Clay Dusters shooting range on their resort business, Went North Bed and Corral, which offers overnight accommodations for horse trail riders using the state forest. Tami said, for the first time in 21 years, their business lost revenue in 2019. A 10 percent reduction, she said. The couple saw that as a direct impact of a shooting range opening next door.
Tami shared in a letter to commissioners that the original plan was a misrepresentation of the actual plans of the shooting range. She added that a selling point for this shooting range in 2018 was that the site would bring in property taxes, however, Tami had concerns that the non-profit status of the facility would make it non-taxable.
“The applicants (PRCD) knew the CUP would have conditions associated with an approval, which they agreed to accept. These conditions should be followed as they were agreed upon. The community and lands used by others that surround the Sportsmen’s Park are entitled to days and hours when no shooting will occur,” Tami wrote.
Randy spoke about the noise study, which he said was not a reliable source of determining actual noise decibels. He said he personally used a decimeter and recorded noise from outside the range, which showed decibel ratings beyond the allowable amount, beyond the sound study. He was upset that no one had come out to witness the noise for themselves.
“We are far in excess of what these predicted values were, which is what I contended from the start,” Randy said. “This software study is not an accurate study.”
According to the planning commission minutes, when asked about the difference in his findings and the study, commission chair Charles Funk said “he guessed they disagreed.”
“The sound is crazy loud and anyone who has been out there would experience it,” Randy said at the county board meeting.
One way that noise was to be reduced was through four rows of coniferous plantings, which have not been planted but are now on order, according to Fosse, and are to be planted in the spring.
Kangas said the sound study is inadequate because it does not take into account the human activity in the area. “It’s not a desolate area, like what was stated,” he said.
The planning commission established in their meeting that the amended use was consistent with the land use ordinance and that the request would not depreciate nearby properties. Their finding of fact was that the amended use did not change the number of shooting hours.
Kangas argued that by adding additional days that the range is open, the club is adding shooting hours. The Wentholds also pointed this out in their opposition.
All commissioners voiced an opinion on the topic, except Bill Stearns, who was not present. When it came time to vote, all commissioners but Kangas voted in favor of a resolution to amend the CUP. County commissioners Jim Hofer, Sheldon Monson and Chuck Horsager felt the topic was well vetted by the planning commission.
Horsager said that he hoped the parties would be able to work together to make these recreational opportunities benefit each other rather than degrade each other.