The Heartland Public Shooting Park opened in 2005 and has quickly shot to the top among Grand Island’s attractions. (Independent/Barrett Stinson, file)

Grand Island’s Heartland Public Shooting Park, a 400-acre facility on west Husker Highway, is currently extending its operations with the help of the Grow Grand Island program.

An Olympic shooting facility, geared to Olympic shooting events, is now almost complete at the park.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which includes the shooting park, and Grow Grand Island are similar in many ways, said Todd McCoy, superintendent of the department.

“Our missions are very similar — enhancing quality of life and providing activities for folks and making this place a better place to live,” McCoy said. “Beyond that, we partner with them in various activities.”

A new facility at the shooting park is an example of where that cooperation is taking place. “We are in the process of constructing an Olympic-quality facility,” said shooting park superintendent Bill Starkey.

The quadrennial international Olympics include two shotgun sports events, one of which is the focus of the new facility, Starkey said.

The Olympics include international skeet and trap. The latter event uses a “bunker trap” machine, which is being constructed at the Heartland Shooting Park. A traditional trap machine, embedded in the ground, throws out targets at varying angles. A bunker trap device includes 15 different units discharging targets at different trajectories, and five shooters can be on the firing line at the same time using this machine.

“We’re gearing up for giving young men and women the opportunity to train for a chance at ‘the big leagues’ by using that new facility,” Starkey said.

Two existing areas of the park have also received major improvements recently.

“One of the investments that the city has chosen to make out here is the addition of new trap and skeet machines,” Starkey said. “Our old machines were 10 to 15 years old and they were showing their age.”

In addition to trap and skeet ranges, the park currently boasts:

n Rifle and handgun target ranges, ranging from distances of 25 to 600 yards.

n An archery range, with three-dimensional targets and distances up to 60 yards.

n A sporting clay range consisting of 15 shooting fields on a 75-acre circular plot.

n Twelve action handgun bays.

n A nine-pad RV park, plus a lake stocked for “catch and release” fishing.

“In 2017 we had an estimated 30,000 guests come through our gates,” Starkey said, “with over 25,000 participating in one or more of our park events.”

The biggest annual event currently at the park is the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championship, which brings to Grand Island champion 4-H shooters from over 30 states.

“This is the culmination of all of 4-H’s shooting programs throughout the nation,” Starkey said. “Last year we had over 750 kids here.”

“That’s quite an economic impact on the city as far as hotels, restaurants and that sort of thing goes,” he added.

Regional collegiate shooting events are also scheduled every fall at the shooting park in Grand Island. “We’re seeing a great uptick in collegiate shooting sports,” Starkey said.

He applauded “the investment that the city council and the city of Grand Island have chosen to make in us out here.”

McCoy also emphasized “the community impact of our shooting park activities — on hotels, gas stations, restaurants.”

And Starkey also emphasized safety.

“Safety is No. 1 with us,” Starkey said. “There’s no way around it, nor do we want to try to go around it. It’s important to us that we always have certified range safety officers on all of our rifle and handgun ranges.”

Since shooters at the park pay small fees to use the facility, the park is bringing in about $400,000 a year in revenue. McCoy said he anticipates needing to increase staffing at the park from three to four full-time employees sometime soon.

In 2005 the then-undeveloped park was purchased by Grand Island from Hall County — then the new owners of the World War II, vintage Cornhusker Army Ammunition plant property, of which the park land was a part. The purchase was made with help from private foundations and local businesses. After some improvements were made, the park opened to the public shortly thereafter.

“For the last eight years, we have experienced double-digit increases in both our revenues and the number of guests that use the park,” Starkey said.

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