From students to experienced hunters, local archery enthusiasts have set their sites on Raccoon River Park in West Des Moines where arrows are flying at the state’s first public outdoor archery facility.
The outdoor range, one of only three of its kind in the country, opened in late April. On May 20, a grand opening that included a ribbon cutting ceremony and a shooting demonstration was held.
City officials say in the short amount of time since it opened, participation has been brisk, as a steady stream of people have utilized the outdoor range. To date, the city has sold 164 annual shooting permits, 101 of which belong to West Des Moines residents.
“I think interest in it has exceeded our expectations a little bit,” says Greg Hansen, superintendent of recreation in West Des Moines. “Already, it’s been a success, and it’s become an important part of our programming.”
The enclosed shooting facility features 12 covered shooting stalls and six targets that are adjustable up to 40 yards. Overhead “arrow curtains,” walls, fencing, a paved staging/spectator area and a shelter over the shooting area are among its safety features.
Annual permits are $20 for adults and $10 for youths 15 and younger who live in West Des Moines. Nonresident adults pay $40 and nonresident youths pay $20. Daily permits for residents and nonresidents are $5. Permits are sold at City Hall.
“Archery is a lifelong skill,” says Hansen, noting that participation at the outdoor range has been particularly high among students. Schools like Jordan Creek Elementary School, Stilwell Junior High School and Valley High School have archery teams and the Kids West summer camp as well as various Parks and Recreation programs incorporate archery into their activities. “A variety of entities are using it on a day-to-day basis. It’s the perfect example of the success of a partnership with schools and what’s being taught in schools.”
Demand for free Explore Archery classes is also high among newcomers to the sport. Hansen says three classes, each of which allowed a maximum of 50 students, quickly filled in May and June and included waiting lists.
“We will hold more sessions later in the year,” he says. “They’ve been a great success.”
Incoming Valley High School sophomores Sarah Kuhlman and Ben Burright are among the youths who have discovered archery through school programs and welcome the new outdoor range at Raccoon River Park. The two 15-year-olds joined Valley’s archery program as freshmen and say they enjoy the competitive and social aspects of the sport.
“You get to meet a lot of people,” says Kuhlman. “It’s competitive, but it’s friendly. We try to help each other out because you’re part of the same team.”
Burright says joining Valley’s archery team teaches him the same skills taught in traditional sports like football, basketball and baseball.
“Just about anyone can do it, and there are more girls than there are boys right now,” he says. “But we compete in tournaments and practice at least twice a week for an hour-and-a-half at a time. That doesn’t count the time we spend shooting on our own.”
Both Kuhlman and Burright started shooting a bow four years ago and credit school programs for giving them their start and further fueling their interest in the sport. They have competed in school-sanctioned tournaments, and Kuhlman recently placed third in an all-state competition among female participants. Her highest score of the season was 288 out of a possible 300, and Burright has scored 266 out of 300.
The two teenagers, like all participants on school teams, use the same standard Genesis bow. Later this summer, they will join their teammates at Valley for the archery competition at the Summer Iowa Games.
They say having the new outdoor range in their community gives them an outlet to hone their skills.
“It’s great to have this so close by with easy access,” says Kuhlman.
West Des Moines Superintendent of Parks Sally Ortgies says she is pleased the new facility affords youths a recreational outlet, especially for those who might not participate in traditional sports.
“I look at it as a way to branch out from more traditional sports,” she says. “We have great facilities for baseball, softball and soccer, which is wonderful, but if we can do something different to serve kids who don’t participate in those traditional sports, then we’re glad to do that.”
Ortgies says the city partnered with several groups to provide archery fans of all ages a public place to enjoy their sport.
The cost of the project was $183,225, and almost $120,000 of it was funded through grants from the Polk County Board of Supervisors ($75,892), Iowa Department of Natural Resources ($23,682) and West Des Moines Community Enrichment Foundation ($20,000). The city provided $63,651 in funding, and other supporters of the project included Scheels (which donated equipment), West Des Moines School District, Polk County Conservation, Mid-Iowa Archers, Iowa State Archery Association and Olympic archer Miranda Leek.
“This was a good project that showed cooperation between agencies,” says Hansen.
Ortgies says the seeds for the project were planted in the spring of 2011 when a retired DNR employee suggested to city officials they build an outdoor archery range in West Des Moines. In the fall of 2011, members of the city’s staff, including Ortgies, took a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to visit archery facilities. They also reviewed one located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the end, they modeled the West Des Moines facility after an enclosed outdoor range at Staring Lake Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“That’s the one we liked the most,” she says. “We liked that it had enclosed walls and took up less space, and we felt it was a little safer.”
Ortgies says the city contracted Joiner Construction to build the facility, and they followed plans created by the Archery Trade Association, making only a few modifications of their own.
“It was one of those projects that created a buzz right away,” says Ortgies. “We were hearing from people who were excited about it. It is something different that serves the needs of so many age groups. It’s not just for kids, or just for adults; it’s for everybody.”
Hansen says the public’s input and interest in the facility has been valuable. He encourages archery enthusiasts to contact him at (515) 222-3448 or email him at Greg.Hansen@wdm.iowa.gov with their suggestions on ways to use it.
“We encourage people to use the facility and to share with us their ideas,” he says.