Area sportsmen are making a concerted effort to win renewal of a lease from the U.S. Forest Service for the shooting range south of Payson.
Members of the Tonto Rim Sports Club and the Gila County Range Commission have used a $10,000 grant from the National Rifle Association and $7,000 in club funds to make improvements to the Jim Jones Shooting Range, formerly known as the Northern Gila County Shooting Range.
"We moved a lot of earth," said Ron Haar, acting chairman of the commission.
The club and commission built berms around three of the fields to keep users safe, catch casings and reduce noise.
The 80-acre range was leased to the county by the Forest Service in 1981. The late Jim Jones, then a member of the Gila County Board of Supervisors, found the land, designed its layout, and made a financial contribution to get the range started. The county appointed a range commission to oversee the property and its use.
"The Tonto Rim Sports Club founded and constructed the range," Haar said.
The shooting range has four different fields: one for high-powered rifles; one for pistols and training; a covered one that is used for small-bore and short-range weapons and pistols; and an archery field that includes targets in both an open area and "natural" setting.
The Tonto Rim Sports Club's membership includes about 570 families.
"The range is not just for the club, all police agencies use it, including law enforcement officers from game and fish, state parks and the DEA," said Forrest Switzer, a member of the club, secretary for the commission, and editor of the group's newsletter. He also helped design the earthen improvements.
Recently Haar, Switzer and club president Jim Haggard showed the improvements to Ed Armenta and Walt Thole of the Payson Ranger Station. The Forest Service representatives both praised the work done at the range.
Armenta said the current lease expires in 2006 and he and Thole are working to secure Forest Service specialists to do studies of the land which are required for a lease renewal.
"The primary reason for the improvements is to provide a safe place for people to shoot, instead of going out into the forest," Haar said.