Five years after closure, West Virginia DNR Director Stephen McDaniel not giving up on Pedlar WMA shooting range

Recreation

OSAGE, W.Va. – Through the rolling hills and country churches of Pursglove and Jere, well-intentioned folks don’t have many recreational opportunities when traveling down the Mason Dixon Highway. But nestled among private lands is one of West Virginia’s most beautiful and secluded wildlife management areas.

Pedlar Wildlife Management Area is host to a multitude of critters, including small game, deer and turkey, and it’s beautiful, crisp bodies of water, Mason and Dixon Lakes, contain some of the best fishing in the north central region of the state. Lake improvements were completed in 2007, and nowadays fishermen can snag largemouth bass, bluegill, channel cats, sunfish and stocked trout in the combined 20 acres of water. 

Originally deeded to the Division of Natural Resources in 2004 by Consol Energy, it didn’t take long for people to take advantage of the quiet, 100-yard shooting range resting above the lake. So, when officials trekked up the small hill to the isolated range and saw the place trashed by vandals, they temporarily closed it down in 2012 for evaluation.

After the evaluation was complete, the agency opened the range with the decision to increase law enforcement patrols and to be more strict with range regulations.

New days and hours were also set to try and tamper anyone from desecrating the area again. Agency officers conducted undercover operations, too. But within two years the range’s gate was closed once more – and is still locked, baring those bright, yellow letters.

The Pedlar WMA shooting range is still closed after five years. The West Virginian DNR is working to reopen it by the 2019 deer season, but it may not be reopened until 2020. (Andrew Spellman/The Dominion Post)

According to outdoors writer Danny Snyder’s February piece for The Times West Virginian, people had stated that people were bringing TVs and computer monitors, among other items, out to the range and dumping it. Those specific items weren’t listed by District I wildlife biologist Steve Rauche, but he did confirm that littering was one of the major issues at the site.

“There was garbage and vandalism issues and potential safety concerns. Our director at the time said to shut it down, and we were going to do an evaluation to make it as safe as possible,” Rauche said. “People were using illegal targets. There were some explosions with Tannerite and people were trying to blow up propane cylinders -– which don’t explode when shot -– and there was shooting outside the range and not at the backstops. People were shooting up on the hill.”

Snyder’s piece also cited local residents concerns about gun safety, one stating that  “a bullet from the range came into their garage.” 

The DNR, headed by Director Stephen McDaniel, isn’t giving up on the range though. After being closed for four years, McDaniel’s evaluation is in the preliminary stages. The third party evaluating the range — the National Rifle Association — will send a safety inspector to offer recommendations of improvements to make the area safe and usable again.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to get that done since last winter and it’s been a slow process,” McDaniel said. “We’re trying to get [the NRA] in there to make it safer. There’s another range in the area — Pleasant Creek [in Philippi] — that’s really popular, and what we were thinking about doing is making the adjustments and see if I can pay a range officer or an off-duty police officer, then only open it on the weekends from 8 a.m. until dark. That’s when it was getting the most traffic.”

When asked about why it’s taken multiple years, Rauche noted, “Unfortunately, it’s a slow process with state government.”

Economic impacts 

People are noticing that their public range is still standing unused in the woods, as Rauche noted he still receives calls checking in on it from time-to-time. It’s clear from Rauche’s demeanor that he cares about this area, and wants to see folks driving up the tight, barely two-car access road. The location itself is important to the greater area, and although it’s free, according to McDaniel, it has an effect on local businesses.

The gate leading to the shooting range is locked by MasterLock and chain. (Andrew Spellman/The Dominion Post)

“When I go to a range I’ll stop and get gas and snacks, stop at a local shop or Walmart and pick up extra rounds and targets,” he said. “Shooting is a sport, and shooters normally spend money — more money than someone who goes to the park — so, sure, they spend a lot of money in a community. There’s a lot of things they do in the area, so there is an economic impact.

“That’s why we have these Wildlife Management Areas and shooting ranges, it’s for people who enjoy the outdoors. It’s people who go hunting, fishing and shooting — a huge economic impact.”

When asked about sales numbers, Sportsman Warehouse off Exit 155 on Gateway Drive said that they were unable to provide them. James Wolfe, an associate at Dicks Sporting Goods’ Lodge located in University Town Centre, noted he believes there’s been an increase in ammo sales. When asked about a local range shutting down having economic implications, he doesn’t believe it effects the area.

“I don’t feel that way about West Virginia, since we have people go set up targets in the forest. I feel like it doesn’t effect the area, but I’m not from the [Morgantown] area originally so it may. I haven’t seen it recently.”

“[Stores] probably don’t have a way of tracking those sales numbers, but I’m sure they see an increase in traffic when the range is open,” McDaniel countered.

Rauche, when asked about the local impacts, cited that the range is in an area with “high demand for public land” as well as Pedlar’s popularity. 

The future of Pedlar

With locals consistently checking in on the status of Pedlar, McDaniel is making it one of his main missions to reopen the range. 

There are concerns, though. The biggest issue is safety, as he relayed reports of attendants misusing AR-15 platforms, wildly shooting into the surrounding area or the air.

“The shooting range itself doesn’t adversely effect the wildlife, but the most dangerous thing is these folks buy AR-15 platforms — I own two or three myself -– and they don’t shoot safely into the ground,” he said. “That’s why we want a range officer there to show people the proper way to use them. If they don’t do that, you kick them off the range. I’m a member of a couple of ranges in Florida, and there’s always a range officer present. Financially, we have to choose where we need them, and I think Pedlar is one that we need to make the investment.

“It only takes one bad egg to ruin it for everyone and firearms are something we have to focus on safety. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that range is operated in a safe manner or we aren’t going to reopen it.”

Although McDaniel is working to get the range open by deer season, he doesn’t know if the NRA and DNR can turn around the work that fast.

“I know people are frustrated but it takes time. People live around there. We’re going to be deliberate, and make sure all ‘T’s’ are crossed and all ‘I’s’ are dotted, but it is my intention to get that place back open.”

This story was written for and published by The Dominion Post in Morgantown, W.Va.

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