WEST GARDINER — In the next six months or so, the West Gardiner Rod and Gun Club is on track to remake itself.

With $70,000 in grants from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife via Pitman-Robertson funds and the National Rifle Association Foundation, matched with donated labor from club members and others, the club’s 60-foot-wide shooting range will be enclosed by a concrete wall that’s 8 feet tall and 2 feet thick, with access through chain-link gates. It will contain a shooting structure on a concrete pad with noise reduction panels and as many as seven shooting positions. The berm at the north end of the range will be 20 feet high.

That will replace the current facility, which is essentially a field with a couple of bunkers and some aging shooting stations.

“Anyone can get down here,” Scott Farnum, club vice president, said Thursday.

Access to the shooting range is controlled by a gate across the road that connects the club to the range. The gate is easy to bypass and Farnum said it’s clear that people who are not club members come to the range to shoot.

“Look at the bunkers,” he said, indicating the structures built from railroad ties and filled with sand. “They are all shot up.”

The club intends to buy a video system to keep an eye on the facility. The NRA Foundation grant, funded by events held in the state sponsored by the Maine Friends of the NRA branch, will pay for that.

To spread the word about the project and to enlist some help, the club is hosting an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the shooting range so members and area residents can see what’s planned.

“We want to show people what we want to do, and generate some interest in helping us to do it,” Farnum said. “We’re doing this to hopefully save the range and see it continue.”

The West Gardiner Rod and Gun Club, located on Collins Mills Road, faces some challenges.

One is the age of the membership.

Farnum said the club has 200 members, but only a core group of people who work on projects, he said.

The club is hoping to enlist help from members to fulfill the match requirement for grants through donated manpower and equipment that will be needed to move and extend the berm at the north end of the range on land donated to the range by West Gardiner Selectman Mert Hickey, pour the concrete pad for the shooting structure and build the base to support the side walls. An engineer is being consulted to give advice on those issues as well as to make recommendations for correcting drainage on the site, which now makes the range soupy in the spring.

The other is its location.

West Gardiner is a rural town, but it’s growing.

Just south of the club house is the entrance to Cobbossee Heights, a subdivision that’s under development.

Several lots abut the shooting range and a clear line of sight exists from the lots through the trees to the range.

As a precaution, the club has put up several signs facing the development that warn of the presence of the shooting range, but that doesn’t seem to be dampening interest in the subdivision.

“The fellow that bought the house over there,” Farnum said, pointing southeast to the trees and a trim yellow two-story home, “said he’d rather have a range for a neighbor than a jerk.”

Cobbossee Heights is being developed by Prestige Custom Homes in Skowhegan. Company owner Jacqueline Poulin said her company doesn’t want to do anything to harm the club.

“They were there before us and we don’t want to see anything hurt them,” Poulin said Thursday. “They agreed that if (prospective homeowners are) interested, we’ll work something out together and they will have free access to the gun club.”

Work on the project already has started. During the winter, the concrete blocks were moved onto the site.

“That proved to be an eye-opening exercise in the amount of work the project will require,” club Treasurer Paul Okerholm said.

“It took a day for the first truck to get down here, because it got stuck,” Farnum said

Staff photo by Joe Phelan
This design shows how the improved shooting range behind the West Gardiner Rod & Gun Club’s clubhouse will look.

Each of the blocks weighs 3,600 pounds. The ground was frozen, so the trucks ferrying them in didn’t sink, but they did get stuck on the ice. The club spent about $750 on sand to make sure the trucks could get moving again.

Prestige Custom Homes has donated some equipment and time to the project already, and the company will be back during the summer to help out again.

Because the new shooting range will be narrower than the existing one, space will remain at the range.

The Rod and Gun Club hosts archery events in the clubhouse in the winter. Farnum said the club has considered having an outdoor archery range outside the blocked-in area, but safety is a concern.

“So many people have come down here who are not club members that are used to just walking down, that if we leave a shooting area outside, they will use it and it won’t be safe,” he said. “Maybe the surveillance system will help with that.”

If all goes according to plan, Farnum said, the bulk of the work will be done by the fall. That’s when club members are likely to want to use the shooting range, before the start of hunting season.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ