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Beltrami County Board: Lucachick pledges hearing on shooting park

While making a pitch for $1.8 million in state bonds from the Minnesota Legislature, the idea of a Beltrami County Shooting Sports Park is far from decided.

In the first voiced opposition to the County Board, an Eckles Township woman urged the board to pull back on the shooting sports park, envisioned for Eckles Township.

"Please reconsider what you're doing here," Susan Safstrom told commissioners Tuesday night during the board's open citizens' section. "Scale it back."

The several hundred acre park would provide shooting ranges, youth firearms education facility and an all-terrain vehicle trailhead and camping area. It would also serve as the relocated site of the Bemidji Trap and Skeet Club.

"Look at more law enforcement to address the problems already in Eckles," Safstrom said. "We have a serious problem with four-wheelers and mudder trucks. Now they'll be shooting guns and have an ATV race track."

The board heard from Safstrom, as well as from Dennis Zeto, Eckles Town Board chairman and member of the Bemidji Trap and Skeet Club.

"It's a plan on paper," County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick said of the shooting sports park proposal. "We will hear from the public on this. There will be public hearings."

Last month, Zeto made a presentation to the House Capital Investment Committee asking for $1.8 million in state bonding for the shooting sports park, a $7.8 million total project.

"Many public meetings have been held in the community and the plan meets all sound and environmental requirements state and federal," Zeto presented to the House panel. "The project has strong support and will be open to the general public, managed by the clubs and county."

The project is ready to be constructed if funded, Zeto said.

At Tuesday's meeting commissioners voted 5-0 to accept the low bid to build the entrance to the shooting ranges. The base bid of $58,921 from Northern Contracting of Bemidji Inc. was accepted. County recreation funds and 4-H funds are expected to pay for it.

Lucachick told Safstrom that the board awarded "a small contract for an access road. Planning and input will be part of this before it goes forward."

Commissioner Joe Vene spoke in favor of the project, saying that there is "a need to have a place where 4-H shooters can practice. They are nationally recognized. And, deer hunters need a place to sight in their rifles, rather than in gravel pits."

Safstrom said the combination of guns and ATVs will bring trouble to Eckles Township. "We are in a high crime area along Highway 89," she said. "We don't need to invite the whole world to Eckles Township with their guns and their four-wheelers."

Citing the need for a safe area for youth to use firearms, as well as organized gun clubs and law enforcement shooting ranges, Vene said he "hoped not to invite all in creation" to the area.

Zeto said the facility will offer firearms safety training to youth, dismissing Safstrom's picture of a bunch of youth riding around on ATVs and shooting guns.

"The coursework teaches about hunter ethics and sloppy hunters," Zeto said.

Lucachick said the board will hold public hearings on the proposal, that it has not yet been approved by the board.

"We ne3ed to bring it to the table," he said. "We know it's out there."