The largest number of responses to Wyoming’s State Shooting Complex Public Survey came from Fremont County, according to a memo from legislative staffers to the State Shooting Complex Oversight Task Force this week.
The survey was open for more than a month, attracting 369 unique responses from the general public – including 47 from Riverton; 22 from Lander; eight from Shoshoni; two each from Dubois, Hudson and Pavillion; and one from Kinnear.
The 84 responses from Fremont County represent almost a quarter of the total submitted.
It’s pretty unusual for a public survey like this to attract so much attention, legislative staffer Karen Vaughn told the task force during a meeting this week in Riverton.
“I did not expect to get 370 responses,” she said. “We have wide support all across the state.”
Wyoming Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, who serves on the task force, said she was “really, really impressed” by the results of the survey.
“I had no idea of the community support,” she said. “The positive comments have been really meaningful. … Communities are working together to do this. It really means a lot.”
Survey respondents were asked to identify the shooting sports and non-shooting amenities they’d like to see at a new state facility.
Perusing the results, local task force member and Maven Outdoor Equipment Company co-founder Cade Maestas said he found it “interesting” that so many people identified archery as a preferred sport.
“(Let’s) make sure that those people know they’re welcome at the table too,” he said. “(Archery) can play a major role in people coming here to do cool things at a great complex.”
He also suggested that the task force should continue using the survey results as a “reference point” to help keep them on track as they begin making decisions about the shooting complex moving forward.
“We just need to each go back to this list and make sure that we’re representing not just our own personal desires but also those of the people that have responded,” he said. “It’s basically just a gut check as we continue to move forward, (to) make sure we’re in line with what people are asking for.”
Some survey respondents expressed concern about the cost of the shooting complex, Muley Fanatic Foundation president Joshua Coursey pointed out, and he heard similar sentiments repeated “at an RMS football game last night,” where a “concerned citizen” talked to him about the local struggle to operate an ambulance service, let alone a shooting complex.
“Who’s going to carry the water on this, financially?” Coursey asked. “I think that’s a big concern that a lot of folks are continuing to talk about, knowing that to try to get this to be able to operate in the black for a county or a municipality is probably a burden. …
“I would really like to have this committee be able to talk about (that) a little more publicly.”
Wyoming Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said it’s too early to know what kind of “structure” will be set up to govern the shooting complex in the future.
“We’d like to hear back from those folks that want to host this facility (about) their ideas on how it should operate,” he said.
He added, however, that the “real value” of the shooting complex is the economic activity it will generate in the state.
“There’s going to be a cost,” Hicks said. “(But) the economic impact will pay for itself over and over and over again. That’s what we’re looking at. It’s not a cash flow on a building – it’s a cash flow to the state of Wyoming.”
After reviewing the survey results, the task force moved on to discussions about the process they plan to use to gather proposals from the local communities that are interested in hosting the shooting complex.
Maestas began the conversation by requesting clarification about that process for the benefit of the “bunch of communities here that are very interested in this and already very active.”
“I’ve tried to warn them that we don’t know what we’re doing yet, so (for them) to start trying to match that might be a little premature,” Maestas said. “(But) they should have an idea of what we’re looking for … so that they can appropriately spend their energies and their community’s money.”
Wyoming Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, said the task force will request a “pre-proposal” or “readiness survey” from each community interested in hosting the shooting complex first.
The readiness surveys will be “pretty general at this point,” Washut said, including questions about the amount of land available at each location, the presence of utilities in the area, and the variety of property owners that would have to be involved, for example.
The task force will be able to develop a more detailed request for proposals after the readiness surveys are collected and reviewed, Washut said.
The process Washut outlined “seems a little cart-before-the-horse,” Maestas said, since communities are being asked to propose a location when “we don’t know what (the facility) is yet.”
“I just want to make sure that when we start spending people’s resources that it’s in a way that benefits the end result,” he said.
Washut agreed that the process is “a little challenging” since “so many of these things overlap,” but he also offered assurances that the pre-proposals won’t be used to eliminate any applicants.
“I would not envision that the pre-proposal is a gate,” Washut said. “It’s a way of communicating to us what’s available out there.”
The application process will require collaboration among multiple communities and organizations, Ottman said, commending the residents who have already initiated cooperative efforts throughout the state.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do, is to get the conversations out there,” she said. “It’s very, very good to see all of (these) people working together to make this thing phenomenal. I appreciate all the interest and hope that it will just continue to expand.”
The task force heard from several local residents during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Lucid Optics president Jason Wilson, who talked about the economic benefit of building the complex in central Wyoming.
“If you’re looking at this to generate economic development and tourism … place it someplace in the center of the state so people have to travel through to get there,” he said.
Wilson also reiterated that airports “aren’t necessarily a high” priority for shooters, who tend to avoid flying with their firearms.
“They drive,” he said. “That’s why you see RV parks really, really sought after.”
Jason Crotteau with Wyoming Tactical emphasized the importance of providing educational opportunities for competitive shooters at the complex.
Those educational opportunities are especially valuable to more advanced shooters when they take place in inclement weather, he added.
“In Wyoming we could have anywhere from three to five months (a year when), specifically because of our weather patterns and our difficult environment, it would be a perfect training facility,” Crotteau said.
Hudson Mayor Sherry Oler thanked the task force for meeting in Fremont County, where there is “a tremendous amount of support” for the shooting complex.
“This is an awesome project,” Fremont County Association of Governments administrator Gary Michaud said, echoing Oler’s comments. “Our community is organized and mobilized, and we are looking forward to this proposal process.”
The shooting complex is going to be a “great facility” no matter where it’s located, Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith said, but he also advocated for a central location with access to tourist attractions like Yellowstone National Park, Hot Springs State Park, the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, and the Wind River Reservation, noting that “serious shooters” usually travel to competition locations weeks ahead of time to “get acclimated” to the area, and they often bring at least two other people with them.
Highsmith approached the task force again later in the meeting to ask for their thoughts about proposals incorporating federal land.
He was responding to earlier comments from some task force members who said they wouldn’t want federal land to be included at the complex because of time constraints, but Highsmith said avoiding federal land use altogether “may eliminate some areas (that) may suit this very well.”
“I wouldn’t suggest leasing from the federal government,” he said, “(but) there’s a methodology where ownership can take place.”
Fremont County’s shooting complex task force has “been looking at combinations of BLM, state, and federal land to come up with the proper amount of acreage to build a world-class facility,” Highsmith said, and the group “would like you to at least consider that.”
Washut said he was “willing to hear more” about the idea, and Hicks said he “wouldn’t throw out” Fremont County’s proposal just because it includes a federal land transaction – “particularly if you’re just using (federal land) for a buffer” around the shooting complex.
“I just can’t support putting (any) infrastructure on it,” Hicks said. “(If you) submit a proposal that has infrastructure on federal land, I’m just telling you that you’re probably not going to rank very high, and you’ve gone through an exercise in futility.”
The task force plans to meet virtually Oct. 20 to finalize their pre-proposal request, which is slated for release in November.
The next in-person task force meeting will take place Nov. 17 in Cody.