Gun range in East Bay park faces uncertain future

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The gun range at Anthony Chabot Regional Park has been a fixture in the park for 50 years. But its future is uncertain.

In the East Bay Hills, there is an oasis. It is a place to get away from the hectic pace of daily life. But listen closely, and you'll hear something you don't expect to hear in nature, gunfire. It's coming from a 65-acre marksmanship range in the Anthony Chabot Regional Park.

The range has been a fixture in the park for 50 years. But now its future is uncertain. Its lease is up for renewal for to operate for another 25 years. But some people believe it's a good time to close the range.

Peter Volin opposes the range. "When you go out into the park, the last thing you want to hear is gun fire," he said.

Volin retired after 35 years with the East Bay Regional Parks, he spent 15 of those years as a ranger at Chabot.

He launched a petition drive at calling on the park to close the range. Hundreds of people have already signed in support.

"The problem that I have with it, is that it is in a really bad place," Volin said.

There are also environmental concerns. The Sierra Club wants to know if lead from bullets is having an impact on wildlife and leaching into nearby Lake Chabot. The lake is a popular recreation area and an emergency source of water.

The Sierra Club is demanding the park study the environmental impacts of the range.

The range says the sound of gunfire is within acceptable limits and they are constantly taking steps to limit possible lead contamination.

Dennis Staat is the president of the Chabot Gun Club. "The Chabot Gun Club is a valuable resource and we think that the general public is best served by renewing that lease," he said.

The range is owned by the park, but run by the non-profit gun club. Staat says the club has about 1,000 dues-paying members and more than 40,000 people visit the range every year. Thousands of people have signed a petition to keep the range open.

"Perhaps the primary value of having a facility like this is that it is available to the public, is I think the safety component is the most important thing. You know our motto is, 'is a safe place to shoot'," Staat said.

Those who use the range say they would hate to see it go.

The range is open to the public Friday to Monday. The rest of the week three dozen law enforcement, security and military agencies use the range for practice. Many, like the Emeryville police department, have small budgets for training. They wouldn't talk on camera, but their public information officer Brian Head, said by email, "There are few alternatives in the county that are as close and cost-effective."

Opponents of the gun range say those agencies could use other facilities. There are 19 other gun ranges around the Bay Area.

"I would like to see the gun range not in this park, and either be somewhere else, or just be happy with 19 gun ranges rather than 20 gun ranges in the bay area," Volin said.

East Bay Regional Parks declined ABC7 News' request for an interview on camera, but said over the phone they are continuing to study the issue. They hope to make a decision about the gun range's future by the end of the year.

This isn't the only range fighting with the community over noise and possible lead contamination. The Pacific Rod & Gun Club at Lake Merced in San Francisco has been told by its landlord it must vacate when its lease expires on Dec. 31.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel
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