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Wildlife commission looks at new site for controversial shooting range

An approaching storm illuminates the fall colors of Linville Gorge and Table Rock in this 2011 photo.
An approaching storm illuminates the fall colors of Linville Gorge and Table Rock in this 2011 photo. jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

The state Wildlife Resources Commission is looking at a new site for a controversial shooting range first proposed near Lake James in Burke County.

The commission is now evaluating a site on the state-owned Johns River Game Land north of Morganton. The site is near a shooting range used by the Burke County Sheriff’s Department.

The change follows heated local opposition to the initial site. It was also on state game land but near the shoreline of Lake James and the renowned Linville Gorge Wilderness.

Burke County’s tourist board has protested that hikers in the gorge, and on a lakeside loop trail, would be “psychologically impacted” by gunfire from the range.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation, whose members include many hunters, also urged the commission to look elsewhere.

A state study estimated the range could attract more than 10,000 shooters a year.

The issue became before the commission’s land use committee Wednesday.

While the Lake James site is “not off the table completely,” commission spokeswoman Jodie Owen said, work has begun to evaluate the new location.

One study that analyzed how far the sound of gunfire would travel has found the Johns River site to be viable, she said.

The commission plans to hold a public comment meeting and do an environmental study of the Johns River site, Owen said. It’s expected to go before the full commission in July.

Henderson: 704-358-5051;

Twitter: @bhender

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