The Sisters Ranger District has closed an area west of the Crossroads subdivision to shooting due to public safety concerns.
The McKenzie gravel pit, located west of Crossroads near Sisters off Forest Service Road 400, will be closed to shooting due to concerns about conflicts with other recreational uses in the area and potential for stray bullets to fly outside the shooting area, the Forest Service reports.
According to the Forest Service, for the last several years complaints about irresponsible target shooting in the area and reports of close calls from stray bullets have come into to the Sisters Ranger District.
Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid told The Nugget that a cyclist reported in January that two bullets had "zipped by" him while he was riding on the Jimerson Trail, which is located about 165 yards away from the gravel pit.
The use of the gravel pit as a shooting site predates the 2013 construction of the trail, but Reid noted that when the trail was constructed the pit was closed to the public under the use of a permitee who had a gravel mining and firewood cutting operation there.
The area is also used by off-road-vehicle enthusiasts and will remain open to vehicle use. Shooters who violate the closure are subject to citation.
Reid said that Forest Service and Deschutes County Sheriff law enforcement officers, as well as an independent party affiliated with NRA shooting sports organizations have reviewed the site and have concluded that the site is unsuitable for safe target shooting, primarily because it lacks an adequate backstop for bullets and the potential for stray bullets is high.
There are two large mounds of gravel, and the north and east sides of the pit feature slopes that form backstops. The south side of the pit facing the Jimerson Trail is more open, making the direction in which shooters direct their fire critically important. The Forest Service had placed signage and maps in the pit to indicate safe and unsafe directions of fire. Those signs were shot up.
The Ranger noted that there have also been instances of horseback riders on the Jimerson Trail impacted by gunfire nearby.
"It's a safety thing related to the horses spooking and potentially throwing someone off," he said.
While there have been noise complaints from Crossroads regarding gunfire from the pit, Reid said that those issues did not play into the closure decision, which is based entirely on safety.
Reid told The Nugget that, given the public complaints and the assessment that the area is not safe, the Forest Service essentially had to take some action.
"If something were to happen in terms of a (member of the) public getting killed or injured, I think we're hanging out there a bit in terms of liability," he said.
The closure is temporary, with a two-year maximum.
"The goal is to develop a long-term strategy," Reid said.
Asked whether - since the shooting area was in use first - the Jimerson Trail might be deviated to skirt the pit at a greater distance, Reid said "that's the kind of conversation we'd like to have."
The district ranger said he understands the frustration of shooters who have used the pit safely for a long time. And he also acknowledged that, since shooting is legal across the forest, closure of the pit might disperse the activity into other nearby areas that are unsafe.
"That's a possibility - and we'll be monitoring," he said.
Reid asserts that the closure is not an attempt to restrict recreational shooting more broadly on the Sisters Rangers District.
There are four gravel or cinder pits nearby, he noted, "all of which are more suitable than McKenzie."
Shooting, like hunting, he said, "is a legitimate use of the National Forest. It's a use we encourage to have happen in a safe manner. I think the intent here is to still encourage and promote recreational shooting in safe areas."