Aug 22, 2022 - News

Game and Fish aiming for NWA

Illustration of a shooting range target but the bullseye is a dollar sign.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A proposed gun range is poised to pit NWA cities and residents against one another for the honor to host the attraction.

What's happening: Director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) Austin Booth said at the Northwest Arkansas Council's annual meeting in July that his agency wants to build a top-shelf sport shooting complex in this corner of the state.

  • AGFC will seek competitive requests for proposal from any combination of public, private and/or commercial entities.

The big picture: One study estimates $16.9 billion was spent on recreational shooting in the U.S. in 2016. Another calculates that target shooting contributed $21.2 billion to the country's GDP in 2020, with $205 million of that in Arkansas.

  • Of note: With 15 manufacturers located here, AGFC says the state is No. 4 in the U.S. for economic output per capita in the firearms and ammunition industry.

Why it matters: In addition to serving nearly a million Arkansans, the range would be another notch in NWA's strategy to attract tourists and increase their stay time with outdoor and sporting attractions.

Threat level: Booth is up front about the issue of gun violence. He sees a facility like this as a contribution to responsible gun ownership. It would help people "foster their interests and firearms — not in the dark, not in isolation — but in the light of day along with their neighbors," he told Axios.

  • "[AGFC's] obligation is to provide hunters and recreational shooting enthusiasts with the public access they need to become safer, more responsible citizens and outdoorsmen," he said.

State of play: While NWA's five largest cities have interest in the amenity, representatives from Springdale and Fayetteville told Axios they don't have the land.

  • Steve Cox, who heads economic development with the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce, said he's waiting to review the RFP before any decisions are made.
  • A spokesperson for Siloam Springs told us the city wouldn't pursue the RFP.
  • Representatives from Bentonville didn't respond to multiple inquiries from Axios.

This means the proposal will likely be pursued by private landowners.

What they're saying: "We would sure support it, should available land be identified," Doug Sprouse, mayor of Springdale, told Axios in an email.

  • "We could also participate at some level, if it would meet our [police department] qualifying needs. Either way, it's a great project and we would love to see it in or near Springdale," he said.

Details: While the RFP isn't yet public, a brochure outlines some requirements for the range, including:

  • The lot must be at least 150 acres with a depth of 400-450 yards.
  • The location must allow for north/northeastern orientation for all-day shooting.
  • There must be minimal residential development nearby.
  • It should have access to public infrastructure, including roads and utilities.

Ideally, the site will be less than a 30-minute drive from NWA, Booth told Axios. He used Springdale as a hypothetical center of the region.

What's next: The RFP will be posted on the AGFC's website by the end of August, Booth told Axios.

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