Forest Service, neighbors concerned about shooting area at Harris Park

BAILEY, Colo. -- People who live near the Harris Park shooting area in Bailey are concerned that the National Forest area is becoming dangerous because of shooters who are breaking the law.

The shooting area is a few miles up a dirt road from Harris Park in the Pike National Forest.

It is legal to shoot there, but there are rules. One of the main ones is to shoot at manufactured targets.

Sometimes, however, shooters take aim at televisions, fire extinguishers, gas cans and even Tannerite, an explosive.

"The biggest issue is the safety," Joe Samu told FOX31. He lives near the shooting area and is worried about it. "There's no regulation, no lanes, nothing identified."

Samu recently led a group of about 100 of his Harris Park neighbors and cleaned up the shooting range.

They picked up hundreds of bags of brass, cans and all sorts of trash.

"It petrifies us," Samu said. "Right now our entire community is petrified...and it’s inevitable that somebody is going to go up there and fire at something that’s flammable and it could start a fire.

Samu's fears became a reality Thursday, when a wildfire sparked from the shooting area. Investigators call it "human-caused."

"We’re asking really, really – I don’t know how to express this - but we need the Forest Service's help."

That help would come from Brian Banks, the District Ranger for the South Platte National Forest.

"If I had the resources, I would patrol it more," Banks told FOX31. "But as it stands now, I have a whole other district with other shooting areas on it."

That district is huge. The South Platte covers 460,000 acres, or roughly 719 miles.

Banks has just about 30 Forest Service workers in it, including law enforcement and seasonal employees.

"We don’t have enough law enforcement to go around and cover those areas," Banks said. "We do the best with what we have."

"We have a saying in my office – we spend 90 percent of our time dealing with 5 percent of the population's bad decisions," Banks added.

Those bad decisions can be costly.

In the last year, the Forest Service has spent more than $1 million putting out fires started by recreational shooters.

And in 2015, a 60-year-old man was killed in the Pike National Forest near Woodland Park. Investigators believe it was a stray bullet that struck him.

At that time, the Pike and San Isabel National Forests had more shooting incidents than any other national forests in the country.

Ranger Banks is now working with Park County and other agencies on a plan to transform the shooting area into an official shooting range.

That could put someone there to regulate it and make sure people are shooting at approved targets and not littering.

"Our community would love to see the range manned and operated like a range," Joe Samu said.

But until that happens, he and his neighbors are going to keep cleaning up the shooting area to keep it clean and safe.

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