Parks committee: Oconto Co. needs public shooting range

The Machickanee Forest Shooting Range is temporarily closed, Friday, May 2, 2014. (WLUK/Ben Krumholz)

OCONTO – A shutdown public shooting range in Oconto County will stay that way – for now. But a county forest and parks committee unanimously agreed the county needs one.

The Machickanee Forest Shooting Range was shut down a month ago after people who live nearby complained of rapid gunfire and bullets going through some people’s yards.

One of those people is John Duggan.

"I was concerned that they're going to rush and make a quick decision and reopen the range without taking all of the safety issues into consideration,” said Duggan, who attended the committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Committee members tasked the parks department to look at redesigning the range to make it more difficult for errant bullets to go past the earthen berms.

Shooting range design experts met with county officials nearly two weeks ago. Suggestions that came out of that include turning the range – which runs west to east – in a north-south direction, or angle it northward by 45 degrees.

Duggan says he would like to see it reopen. He’s a gun deer hunter himself and has used the range in the past.

“So I'm glad that they're taking their time and making sure that it's done correctly.”

Another option the parks committee is considering is moving the range altogether. County forest and parks staff will begin searching county-owned forests for suitable spots. That already has some neighbors chiming in.

"I think that the range should be more centrally located in the county,” said one man who spoke up at the meeting.

"Safety is the most important issue right now," said committee member Judith Buhrandt.

Committee chair Gregory Sekela agreed. "Safety's our number one priority," he said.

The committee members say all options are still on the table – and there's money to do it. But parks officials say moving and/or creating a new range would cost more than revamping the current site.

"The county has about $70,000 in a non-maxing account that can only be spent for the shooting range,” said parks and forestry department head Bob Skalitzky. “Those were collected from fees from users of the range."

The range will be closed to the public, indefinitely, until a decision can be made. Skalitzky says it could take all winter to come to a final decision.

However, the range will be used by the Oconto County Sheriff's Department this weekend for training.