The transformation of a target shooting range up against the ridge off of Sheep Company Road represents years of planning and discussion by a diverse group of community members.

Workers spent about two months upgrading nearly every part of the popular range in the Wenas Wildlife Area north of Selah to ensure it’s accessible for everyone with all types of firearms. Ross Huffman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional lands operations manager, said the community will be responsible for helping protect the agency’s $430,000 investment when it opens next month.

“This being successful is contingent on people working together, coming down here and safely doing this, following the rules and following the guidelines and being respectful to each other,” Huffman said.

Significant changes begin with a new gravel road and parking lot to replace an old dirt lot and road Huffman said would often become a slippery, muddy mess. New signs mark clearly designated ranges of 25 yards for pistols and 100 yards for rifles, both outlined by 8-foot dirt side berms and 10-foot backstops.

Packed gravel paths compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act lead to those ranges as well as less defined ranges for shotguns and long-range shooting. Huffman said additional safety features as well as increased fire resiliency could be added in a later phase.

COVID-19 restrictions halted the project shortly after it began on March 23, and Huffman said new regulations increased the amount of money needed from the state’s capitol budget fund. Eventually, contractors completed around two months of work about two weeks ago, but more delays pushed the grand opening back to mid-November.

“We’re not opening now because we want people to come down here and see that there’s tables and benches and be able to shoot,” Huffman said. “Then all the people have to do is bring their paper target, staple it to the board and then take it with them when they leave.”

Plans to open the area before the general modern firearm season begins on Oct. 29 fell by the wayside with delays to benches coming from a $12,000 commitment by the Mule Deer Foundation. State chair Rachel Voss said the group also recruited local retailer Western Materials to donate $5,000 of wood for target stands.

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“We wanted it open yesterday but that’s the way it goes,” Voss said. “There were some holdups between COVID and with the company and getting (the benches) finished up.”

Once completed, Huffman said ADA accessible tables will be placed on the concrete area for the 25-yard range, and five or six benches will be set up for the 100-yard rifle range. Voss said the Mule Deer Foundation prioritized the creation of an ADA compliant bench to guarantee those unable to stand could still shoot.

Final touches will include steel target stand constructed by volunteers from Evergreen Machine and Fabrication. The wildlife department also wants to add to the new rock boulders around the parking lot to ensure vehicles don’t go off the back side of the lot.

Huffman said before the changes many people would just fire from the top of a slight grade at the edge of the parking lot. The lack of backstops or designated spots would create conflicts between shooters as well as some chukar hunters up on the ridge to the north.

The wildlife department’s decision to engage the public on how to improve target shooting led to the creation of an advisory committee that met eight times in 2017 before submitting recommendations. Many members, including Voss, have continued to assist with the project and she estimates she’s spent hundreds of hours helping create an area designed to problems such as trash and fire danger.

Both Voss and Huffman believe making the area more attractive and safe will reduce dispersed target shooting, which the wildlife department hopes to improve with new, stricter rules. Huffman said up to 10 people should be able to shoot at each range, although COVID-19 regulations could reduce that number initially.

Voss expects the area will draw people from all over the area, including Kittitas County until the wildlife department can implement plans for similar efforts at a popular spot off of Durr Road near Ellensburg. The long-awaited improvements won’t just benefit target shooters, since they also feature better stormwater drainage and protection of wildlife habitat.

“I think that this is going to put people in a place that where they want to shoot and they want to take care of it,” Voss said. “It’s rewarding to see the money that our members have contributed kick back into a project of this large a scale.”

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe