BEMIDJI -- Supporters of the planned shooting sports park northwest of Bemidji are on the home stretch of fundraising needed to build the facility.
The $1.75 million Northland Regional Shooting Sports Park is planned to take up about 200 acres of the 360-acre Northland Regional Sports Park.
Bob Naylor, a member of the Northland Regional Shooting Sports Fund Advisory Committee, on Monday said the project has raised about $1.1 million, leaving about $650,000 to go.
"Our immediate goal is to raise about $300,000 or $400,000, so we can get the project going," Naylor said. "That's dependent on ... the will and the ability of the people to step forward and contribute."
Costs of the project may vary depending on contractor bids, he cautioned.
Construction might begin after the spring thaw in 2015, but the start date is contingent on whether enough funds are raised in time, Naylor said.
Rifle, pistol, and archery ranges are all planned for the facility, as well as trap and skeet ranges for shotgun users. The facility idea has been in the works for nearly a quarter of a century, since what is now the Headwaters Shooting Sports Association was formed in the early 1990s.
Besides regular shooters, the ranges will also host law enforcement training and the Bemidji High School Trap Team. The Bemidji Area Shooters Association, which consists of rifle and pistol enthusiasts, will collaborate with the Bemidji Trap and Skeet Club, which consists of shotgun users, to operate the park. Naylor said introductory safety courses are planned to be available for youth, possibly through community education.
Naylor said shooting sports "equalize everybody," in that a broad variety of people can take part: young, old, able, disabled.
"You don't have to be the fastest, the biggest, the strongest," he said. "Anybody can shoot ... and they do."
Ken Stone, another park supporter, said the potential facility gives new opportunities to non-landowners and people from urban areas, who might otherwise not be able to shoot.
"There's all kinds of people who can't even sight their deer rifles anymore," he said. "It's a huge effort here, for all of us involved ... it's something worth having in the community."
The future park site is leased from Beltrami County, which has also contributed funding for the project. Naylor said a specific user fee structure has not been set up yet, but the fees would be comparable to other area ranges. Due to liability concerns, the facility will likely require its users to bring their own weapons rather than providing "loaner" guns, he said.
Plans call for the ranges to be staffed with a combination of paid and volunteer workers, about two to six people for the rifle and pistol ranges and six to 12 for the shotgun area, Naylor said. The number of staffers will vary depending on demand, he said.
The George W. Neilson Foundation has both donated to the potential park and set up a fund for other supporters as well. To contribute, visit www.nwmf.org and search for the Northland Regional Shooting Sports Fund under the list of created funds.