WHITE CITY — A little-used corner of the Denman Wildlife Area that sports little more than blackberries and starthistle will soon become a field of dreams for local archers.
ODFW plans to break ground soon on a new archery park near the wildlife area headquarters, providing the region's first outdoor public shooting park at a time when interest in the sport is surging.
On one flank there will be a covered, six-lane, archery range for beginners.
On another flank will be a bowhunter range where shooters will be able to take aim at three-dimensional targets from a variety of distances, including an elevated platform to simulate tree-stand shots.
And in the middle will rest the crown jewel — a covered, 10-lane range with movable targets that can be extended as far as 90 meters so anyone can try shots like Brady Ellison and the rest of the United States' silver medal-winning team in the London Olympics.
"If there are kids around here who want to try Olympic archery, I want to give them a place to shoot," says Russ Stauff, Rogue watershed manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The archery range will be open from dawn to dusk, available for organized practices and sanctioned tournaments. And all for the price of a $7 daily parking permit or a $22 annual parking permit.
Modeled after community park ranges designed by the Archery Trade Association, the range will be the first of its kind on the valley floor and one of two ODFW plans to build as prototypes to encourage future ranges on other wildlife areas or in municipal parks across the state.
"We hope to build these as flagship archery parks," says Chris Willard, ODFW's hunter-education coordinator, who is overseeing the work at Denman and a similar range at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area near Corvallis.
"We really want to support recreational shooting," Willard says. "We look at archery as a sport that complements hunting and gets folks outdoors."
Willard will be at the wildlife area's office, 1495 E. Gregory Road, for an open house-style informational meeting on the project at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26.
Archery is seeing immense gains in interest, reversing a decade-long decline in participation, says USA Archery spokeswoman Teresa Iaconi.
The popular book trilogy and movie "The Hunger Games," with its arrow-firing hero Katniss Everdeen, and Disney's upcoming release, "Brave," join other television and film ventures with archery-related themes, putting the sport into pop culture, Iaconi says.
Even before "The Hunger Games" debuted in theaters in March, the Colorado-based USA Archery had seen rising interest, with membership growing by 25 percent in less than a year, and social-media interest growing 10-fold, Iaconi says.
"The Hunger Games" sequels are planned for release each of the next three years, "and we feel what's going to happen will be more of the same," Iaconi says. "People will be introduced to archery through these films. We're seeing sustained interest. People are trying archery and loving it."
For the past few years, ODFW has been looking for ways to encourage and expand interest in shooting sports. The agency offers financial support to existing rifle and pistol ranges, but environmental laws make it difficult to build new rifle ranges, Willard says.
That leaves archery, and the ATA has a blueprint for municipal ranges like the one being built here.
ODFW decided to put the prototype ranges at Denman and E.E. Wilson because of their state ownership and proximity to urban areas, Stauff says.
The parcel chosen for the project at Denman is big enough to hold the three-range facility, it is near the main office, and it's on land rarely used by Denman's regular visitors, Stauff says.
It is adjacent to a pond used by duck hunters, but adjacent to the area's non-shooting safety zone. It gets rare use by upland game-bird hunters who pay a fee each fall to shoot planted pheasants on the wildlife area, but none are planted on that parcel, Stauff says.
It also is of marginal wildlife habitat, he says.
The three individual ranges will be separated by high fences or berms so, for instance, shooters on the beginners' range won't be limited by activities at the bow-hunting range, Stauff says.
Also, the main range will have its 250-pound targets mounted on wood and metal sleds fabricated by ODFW workers who usually build and maintain fish screens on area irrigation diversions. The sleds will allow the targets to be moved to various shooting distances requested by archers.
The range is estimated to cost about $137,000, some of which will be paid for through current budget pools, Stauff says. The agency is looking for donations, in-kind assistance and grants to fund the project, which could be phased in over as long as a three-year period based on funding, Stauff says.
"We want to build something accessible to all archers in the community," Stauff says. "I'm an archer. I've been an archer since I was a little kid. I'm really excited about this."