Editor’s Note: Today’s feature again focuses on ways to make shooting sports more fun -and easier- for the next generation. It was written and photographed by our colleague David Rainer of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Along with Alabama’s sparkling Gulf waters and beautiful mountains, our great state has another strength you may not have heard as much about: Alabama’s Community Archery Parks program ranks No. 1 in the nation.
The state’s 16th archery park, the Walker County Community Archery Park, was dedicated last week on the outskirts of Jasper on the banks of beautiful Walker County Public Fishing Lake.
Stuart Goldsby, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division Regional Hunter Education Coordinator, has been instrumental in the spread of the archery park phenomenon in Alabama. Goldsby said the Walker County park has taken a while to complete, but it has been worth the effort.
“We’re very excited about this,” Goldsby said. “This is No. 16 for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To be able to lead the country in developing grassroots, community archery locations, where school groups or clubs or retailers can use it to benefit the community with that life skill of archery, is very exciting for us.”
The Walker County park has covered shooting areas with targets at known distances for both adult and youth shooters.
The unique aspect of the Walker County park is that it is the first state-operated archery park in the nation with a wheelchair-accessible elevated shooting platform.
Ed Poolos, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner, said the new archery park is special to him for several reasons, including its location.
“I am a proud citizen of Jasper and Walker County, so this is home,” Poolos said. “I am glad this is here. The goal for the Department of Conservation on this project is to partner with local governments and foundations to make the Walker County Public Fishing Lake one of the best state fishing lakes in Alabama. At the same time, we want to bring people to the outdoors to enjoy the natural beauty of Alabama. Projects like this allow us to do that.”
Poolos highlighted the positive impacts that archery and bowhunting can have on individuals and communities.
“Archery is a sport that requires and teaches precision, focus, accuracy and determination. It teaches all those things, but the great aspect of archery is that, no matter your age, gender or ability, archery can be enjoyed by everyone. So we’re really proud to bring this park here.”
Poolos also recognized the contributions of two Boy Scouts, Mason Woodman and Jaylan Banks, who aided in the construction of the archery park as part of their Eagle Scout projects.
Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said the area where the archery park is located was annexed recently by the City of Jasper, which will allow city resources to be used to help operate the park.
“I’m an outdoor enthusiast,” O’Mary said. “When you put in an archery range of this quality, that is a recipe for a lot of fun for a lot of people.
“We at the City of Jasper can bring on board the administrative side of our Parks and Recreation to look after tournaments and events here. Our equipment and our labor will be available to support this.”
Jenny Short, chair of Walker County Health Action Partnership's Livable Communities Priority Group, said, although it took a great deal of work to complete the park, it was a labor of love.
“This project is a perfect example of a true private-public partnership,” Short said. “We had so many partners in this project. As we say, this was ‘built by our community for our community.’ We’re really proud of that.”
Alabama residents ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents 16 and older, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com. Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or Alabama residents over 65.
“Alabama leads the nation in having the most community archery parks. That’s one thing I’m proud Alabama is first in,” Chuck Sykes, WFF Director, said. “There is a very important reason why a license is required to use the park. We receive no money from the General Fund, so none of your tax dollars go out to provide services we provide for the citizens of the state. The way we fund that is by people buying hunting and fishing licenses. We encourage you to come out and shoot the range and fish the lake. Matt Marshall, our State Lakes Manager, and Marisa Futral (Hunter Education Coordinator) and Stuart are doing a wonderful job as well as our state biologists. So, come out and buy a license and have fun.”
Sykes said the Archery Trade Association (ATA) and its president, Matt Kormann, are huge supporters of DCNR, and the Department is grateful for their partnership.
The ATA represents manufacturers of archery and bowhunting equipment, pro shops and retailers of archery and bowhunting equipment.
“As president of ATA, I have seen a lot of archery ranges,” Kormann said. “I can say I’ve never stood on one as gorgeous as this one. I hope y’all know how lucky you are to have this park in this surrounding because it is unique.
“I’ve also been able to see in my job a lot of public-private partnerships. I can tell you, there is not any like there is in Alabama. To see this all come together so that more folks can come out and experience archery and possibly get into bowhunting, there’s not a better feeling in the world.”
Kormann said the ATA’s board of directors and members have made a commitment to promote and assist in the construction of public archery ranges throughout the nation.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get more folks out shooting and bowhunting,” Kormann said. “There is a lot we need to do to ensure the health of those sports. This really revolves around the ‘R3’ triangle of recruiting new folks to come out, retaining the shooters we have and reactivating folks who might have lapsed. The opportunity to come out in a setting like this with high-quality equipment makes it easier to get folks to come out to shoot.
“What archery teaches and what it gives back is hard to find in other sports. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. It doesn’t matter what your physical abilities are. Anybody can learn this sport pretty quickly. Beyond all of that, the sense of community and the sense of family in this sport is really unmatched.”
Visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks for more information about Alabama’s Community Archery Parks.
— DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources