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Monroe Township

Unpermitted gun range reportedly spooks hikers along Appalachian Trail in Monroe Township

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Carlisle Fish & Game range

Newly constructed shooting rests and parking are seen from the edge of the federal forest surrounding the Appalachian Trail, where trail-keepers say gunfire from the Carlisle Fish and Game Association range has frightened hikers. 

Appalachian Trail caretakers are warning the public about a shooting range being used adjacent to the trail in Monroe Township, which will likely be required to obtain remedial permits after being built by the Carlisle Fish and Game Association without any kind of regulatory review.

The ability of the club to continue to operate the range remains up in the air due to outstanding questions with the zoning law on the club’s property, located just south of West Trindle Road between Carlisle and Mechanicsburg.

But hikers have increasingly reported being startled by the sound of gunfire so close that it sounds as if they are being fired upon, said Joe Frassetta, president of the Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club. Frassetta estimated that the firing range in question is 35 yards from the trail itself.

That estimate is roughly accurate, according to The Sentinel’s own survey of the site. A strip of woodland stands between the trail and the gravel parking lot of the range, with the roofs of the newly built shooting rest shelters clearly visible from the trail.

No signage or physical barrier exists demarcating the range, with the facility’s gravel lot directly abutting federally owned trail woodland. Hikers can easily walk through a few yards of underbrush and find themselves standing behind the shooting rests, which fire away from the trail.

The Carlisle Fish and Game Association’s Facebook page indicates that construction on the range was done in the summer of 2020, and that the range was scheduled to open in August last year. Calls to association representatives had not been returned as of this writing.

Frassetta said complaints about the issue have been building up, possibly as improving weather and the waning of the COVID-19 pandemic bring more hikers to the Appalachian Trail.

The range does not allow high-velocity rifles, which are fired on another range farther away from the trail, according to notices from the Fish and Game Association. While the distant crack of rifle fire can still be heard from that range, it is significantly less disruptive than the newly improved range, Frassetta said.

The range in question has three shooting bays, one of which is dedicated for shotguns and the other two for pistols and pistol-caliber carbines, meaning rifles that are chambered for pistol-type cartridges.

The Carlisle Fish and Game Association did not apply for any permits prior to building the range, according to Monroe Township zoning officer Greg Rogalski, who inspected the site this past week.

“Clearly they have done things that require a permit,” Rogalski said, meaning that the club will need to retroactively request permits for the construction.

What is not certain is whether the club has the right to improve the land for a shooting range under the township’s zoning laws, something that Rogalski said he is discussing with the township’s solicitor.

“Once we determine exactly what has been violated with respect to regulations, we would send them a letter and give them an actionable time to respond,” Rogalski said.

The issue is that the entire property of the Carlisle and Fish and Game Association is a nonconforming use, according to Rogalski. The property was in use as a shooting club before the township enacted the zoning laws that put the club’s land in an agricultural zone.

The nonconforming use is allowed to continue, but any “expansion or alteration” of it can only be done after a special exception is obtained through the township’s zoning hearing board, under township ordinance.

According to Rogalski, there is some indication in township records that the area where the range is located was already being used for shooting prior to the construction of the new facilities last year.

“Documentation from roughly 10 years ago suggests there were shooting stands in that general area, but they were clearly improved,” Rogalski said.

The extent to which the use has been expanded or altered, and the extent to which the use is merely cosmetically different, becomes a legal question where there may be room for interpretation.

Monroe Township’s zoning ordinance gives the township the power to impose requirements on special exceptions, including provisions to “adequately protect neighboring properties” by mandating physical barriers or land setbacks.

Otherwise, Rogalski said he does not believe the township has any requirements against discharging firearms within a certain distance of other properties or land uses.

Email Zack at zhoopes@cumberlink.com.

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