Spring Valley Range Reopens to the Public
It has been a long and rocky road. A real journey through all the twists and turns of a very major construction project with the added adventure of the COVID-19 impact. The effort has been diligent and time consuming for both the contractor and the ODNR Division of Wildlife personnel.
What started as discussions to upgrade the extremely popular Spring Valley Wildlife Area (SVWA) Range, located in southern Greene County, has come to fruition. The range has been the busiest ODNR range, drawing over 20,000 shooters annually from nearby metropolitan areas.
Buckeye Firearms Association leadership were given a tour of the new facilities. The tour included Kendra Wecker, Chief of the ODNR Division of Wildlife; Asst Chief Todd Haines; Outdoor Skills Education Coordinator Chris Mangen; and Spring Valley Wildlife Area technician David Honeycutt. It was quite an eye-opening tour.
Todd Haines led the tour saying, "As a former District Manager in this area, this is special for me. We have done renovations at the range in the past working on the backstops, drainage and shooting benches. Spring Valley has always been the best facility in Ohio for outdoor rifle and pistol shooting. The ODNR Division of Wildlife has invested a lot over the years here. This is the latest installment of that investment in the shooting sports. The big interest is in safety of outdoor ranges. The facility is designed to accommodate the experienced shooters and to provide a safe comfortable facility for new shooters."
The changes to the firing line are readily obvious as you enter. The backstops are now about 20 feet in height. All the construction meets, and often exceeds, the NRA range criteria. It was engineered and built with an extreme concern for safety and bullet containment.
Haines continues, "The requirements for outdoor range safety is the no blue sky concept to contain 100% of the bullets on the range. You must have the ability to control where the bullet travels downrange. The system was designed by consultants. It includes the eyebrow which is compressed wood and AR500 steel plate covered with ballistic rubber. Each of the baffles in front of the firing line are made from the same material."
AR500 is the steel plate used in military armored vehicles. This was a huge part of the delay in completing the range due to finding the supply and getting delivery. It certainly gives a much different look to the firing line. All the posts and overhanging eyebrows are covered with ballistic rubber for safety.
New shooting benches line the firing line, which is both covered and wide for easy access. The shooting stations have nets to keep the spent cartridge case from a semi-automatic firearm from going onto the next bench. A plexiglass panel has been added between each position to meet the state COVID-19 regulations.
Range capacity is increased approximately over 20% over the old range to sixty-six total stations. The range design allows shooters, on designated portions of the range, to shoot 25, 50, 75 or 100 yards. This is something new that was not possible without the baffles.
Firearm racks are conveniently located behind the shooting benches. There is a wide concrete walk to the target areas. The entire facility is ADA compliant.
The range is divided into three sections of 25, 50 and 100-yard ranges. The 25-yard handgun range is on the opposite end from the rifle range. There is a separate area on the pistol range for concealed carry (ccw) classes so instructors can call cease fire without affecting entire 25-yard range. As with the 100-yard range there are target holders installed at shorter distance on the 25-yard range.
A massive concrete wall separates the ccw range area from the 25-yard range. There are both sitting and standing firing positions on the ccw range. Joe Eaton, Buckeye Firearms Association leader and instructor, notes, "Having the ability to segregate the ccw area from the rest of the firing line is great. What I've found is when you are doing instruction for a new shooter, you generally rotate people through the firing drills, possibly with fewer shots. That is different than the recreational shooter. Not having to call a cease fire for the entire line will be a great benefit to both ccw and recreational shooters. The safety aspect is such that no round will ever leave the range. That's good for everyone." Use of ccw range does require a reservation through the Division of Wildlife District 5 office.
The range master building contains the security monitoring system for the cameras offering a view of the entire firing line and also recording activity. The cameras and security system also provide 24/7 security monitoring when the range is closed. Currently the range sign-in is restricted to the walk-up window due to COVID-19 regulations.
The Range Safety Officers remain at the building and ranges for their entire shift so the building has microwave and refrigerator for their lunch. There are now restrooms in the building which are accessible from the outside for all shooters. However the drinking fountains will remain shut off due to COVD-19. Shooters should expect to bring their water or sports drinks.
The water filtration system, which is housed in a separate building, has been upgraded to a certified public water supply. It meets all the same requirements as any public or municipal water system. Water testing, through a certified contractor, is performed on a regular schedule to ensure a safe water supply. Talks are in process with contract vendors to supply vending machines in the covered area part of the building.
However, the facility is not just about rifle and pistol ranges. One of the first areas encountered upon entering is the new static archery range. Archery bag targets, concrete walks, racks for hanging archery equipment are all available and it is also ADA compliant. The walking range through the woods is basically the same with some minor adjustments to the shooting direction. The archery range does not require a permit and is now open 7 days a week.
At the top of the hill, near the previous entrance is the clay target range. It has been moved slightly to reposition the firing line ensuring all shot stays within the SVWA. There are new Lincoln trap throwers, which are permanently mounted, so shooters do not have to bring a hand thrower. These are 3/4 cocking throwers which are much easier and safer to cock. There is additional room for shooters to bring hand or battery powered electric throwers also. Like all the ranges, convenient benches are available for shooters and supplies along with racks to store shotguns.
The new educational building initially dominates the view upon entering the range facility. Chris Mangen, who is the coordinator for the entire range facility, explains, "This is the building we will use for meetings, training and advanced clinics. The net at the far end of the room allows for the training of National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). This provides introductory archery training. The room has complete sound deadening materials so any noise from firing at the range will not be heard. The building will be used for training such as hunter education courses, basic firearm training classes and outdoor education. The classroom training can easily be followed with range time. We are looking at other outdoor topics such as pollinator habitat or how to hunt clinics for beginning hunters. The adjacent wildlife area offers field opportunities. We have a wet lab for training such as deer processing and wild game cooking. We want to expand the reach of outdoor education to improve our recruitment, retention and reactivation efforts."
Chief Wecker concludes, "I am really proud that it is ADA compliant, family friendly area with restrooms and additional shooter amenities. Families can make a day at the range or also enjoy the nearby SVWA boardwalk over the marsh. We hope to add some picnic tables. This is built to last a very long time. We are still working on some things, such as Wi-Fi. We are proceeding with a soft opening now. We hope to add the ability for people to schedule range time through the HuntFishOH app after the first of next year. We don't anticipate long waiting times thanks to the added shooting positions. We would eventually like to add some special events, perhaps family or ladies specials along with instructional classes for new shooters. We are focused on serving the customer to get them outside and use the range. We are proud to offer this to Ohio's shooters."
The range reopened on October 30, 2020 with the firearms range hours of Wednesday through Sunday 9 a.m. To 5 p.m.. Money for the extensive modernization came from the Wildlife Restoration Fund. This paid 75% of the costs with the ODNR matching 25%. The Wildlife Restoration Fund money is an excise tax paid on firearms, ammo and sporting goods related to hunting and shooting. Spring Valley is now an elite range and ready for Ohio shooters.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.