Oct. 4, 2017
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
A long-awaited shooting sports complex in Jonesboro is closer to reality after the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on Sept. 20 authorized AGFC Director Jeff Crow to complete a memorandum of agreement with the city to fund the complex’s development.
The city of Jonesboro first approached AGFC in January 2016 about the possibility of receiving funding to build a public recreational shooting sports complex. However, land targeted for the state-of-the-art range had environmental impact concerns to nearby wetlands that required addressing. After a nine-month assessment, those problems have been worked out with various state and federal agencies, according to Grant Tomlin, AGFC assistant chief for hunter education and shooting ranges.
“It goes through a very intense review process,” Tomlin said of a shooting complex project like Jonesboro’s. “We still have one more step to go and that’s applying for the federal grant that will fund our portion of the project, which will be $2 million.”
In addressing the environmental concerns, Tomlin said, “We came up with some designs that would prevent lead shot from getting into the wetlands with the development of a shot curtain. It catches the shot and drops it down with no effect on the surrounding area.”
The range, which will take up 200 acres near an industrial area off Interstate 555, will feature nine trap- and three skeet-shooting stations, a 200-yard rifle range, 50-yard pistol range and archery ranges (both regular and 3D). Architectural plans are not finalized, Tomlin said, but the range is expected to have a large clubhouse with snack bar, restrooms and a large lobby, along with additional pavilions on the firing lines with restroom facilities in a separate building for users of rifles and pistols.
The AGFC will provide reimbursement to Jonesboro through federal Pittman-Robertson grant funds not to exceed $2 million for development and construction of the project. The total cost is expected to be $8 million, Tomlin said. Tomlin said that AGFC will apply for a Wildlife Restoration Program grant, which is also funded through Pittman-Robertson, for its $2 million portion of the project.
The Pittman-Robertson grant program, which began in 1937, is a wildlife restoration and conservation funding mechanism that helps fund projects such as shooting ranges and other hunter education facilities nationwide. Money is derived through an excise tax on hunting equipment, firearms and ammunition collected from the manufacturer. The grant ratio currently calls for 75 percent funding from the federal government with a 25 percent local match. Tomlin said either of two bills in Congress yet to be voted on would change the allocation to 90 percent federal vs. a 10 percent local match. AGFC Director Crow recently testified before a Senate committee in Washington, D.C., about how Pittman-Robertson money is spent and the benefits for agencies such as the AGFC in developing shooting ranges and improving hunter education, Tomlin said.
Additional paperwork is required between Jonesboro and the AGFC before construction can start, Tomlin said. “The memorandum of agreement will say what we’re responsible for and what Jonesboro is responsible for, and once they agree to it, everybody will sign it,” he said. “In the agreement, they have to report [to the AGFC] their finances on the range, such as any revenue they make has to go back into the range itself for maintenance. They have to show how they’ll staff it, lots of other stuff, even giving [the AGFC] access to run programs like hunter education.”
The AGFC previously provided funding to the cities of Batesville and Warren for development of their currently operational public shooting sports complexes and owns the Dr. James E. Moore Jr. Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower; a shooting range at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie WMA and Conservation Education Center, about 16 miles northwest of Hope; and an unmanned complex near Paragould, the Jack Cox Scatter Creek Firing Range. The Jacksonville Shooting Sports Complex was a funding project by the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and is not overseen by the AGFC.
Tomlin said the AGFC’s next area of focus would be to develop public shooting sports complexes in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith/Arkansas River Valley area.