Residents and business owners from both sides of the Wallkill River have converged on town of New Paltz officials to voice their objections to a shooting range on private land on Springtown Road. The noise is distracting and disturbing, they say, and there are worries that this unregulated shooting space poses a very real danger to anyone within several hundred yards. Police are unable to shut down the activity because it is within the scope of state law. Town council members are now being asked to consider passing a local law to allow for a crackdown.
The property in question, near a bend in the river between Dug and Kleinkill roads, is empty but for a high earthen berm before which are hung a variety of targets. All around are scattered hundreds, if not thousands, of shell casings in a variety of sizes. According to neighbors, the use of those targets results in periods of near-constant gunfire that can last several hours at a clip. At one point last year there were actually explosions rocking the area; police did put a stop to that, but without property owner cooperation, there’s little else they can do to end the practice, which has gone on for at least ten or 20 years to hear neighbors tell it.
According to a neighbor, and confirmed through the Ulster County Parcel Viewer, the property is owned by Kenneth Campbell. The given phone number was out of service when a reporter called it.
“We’ve tried to do this as individuals,” Sandra Panman told town council members at their meeting last week. She and other signers of a letter fear that the unregulated shooting range could yield a death from a stray bullet. The shooting sessions — which she described as happening five to six times a week — are also likely to depress property values, in her opinion.
“I’ve lived there 20 years, and they’ve been shooting since I moved there,” said Amy Kletter at that meeting. There is no fence, no signs to indicate the use of firearms and no way to determine who’s there except to stop in and ask the people with the guns. Having a property that “sounds like a war zone sometimes” is not in keeping with the “developing bike culture” in New Paltz, she told elected officials.
In a separate letter, Garvan McCloskey, whose restaurant is across the river, called the intermittent shooting a “terrible nuisance,” most particularly when it occurred during a wedding reception. The guns being shot include semi-automatic weapons, meaning that the reports can be rapid and frequent.
Larry Furey, pro at the New Paltz Golf Course, considers it far worse than a nuisance. It interrupts the calm many golfers depend upon to play well, and the fourth hole of the course is close enough to the action that a stray bullet could end up reaching that far. He recalled that when exploding targets were used by a group a year or more ago, the windows of his wife Karen’s Cafe Upstairs on 9 Cafe actually shook.
Furey was near to shaking himself as he described many years of being “nice about it,” years which are now at an end. The New Paltz Rod and Gun Club is near the golf course, but Furey said he has no problem with noise or safety from that quarter. Furey said that his business partner, a gun owner himself, guessed that some of the ammunition being shot was .50 caliber, and could travel up to 4.2 miles.
“I could get 500 golfers here for the next meeting [of the New Paltz Town Board],” Furey said.
Caroline Paulson, who lives farther up Springtown, spoke with board members as “an advocate for my region” and former member of the gun club. She lauded the commitment to safety and attention demonstrated by gun club officials, and in contrast said of property owner Campbell — who was not present at that meeting — “I have to say he’s a fool” for allowing the shooting to occur without any oversight. “I hope that steps will definitely be taken to end this,” she added.
Victoria Curry grew up with guns in her home, but nevertheless thinks this is not the place to exercise second-amendment rights. A former owner of a bed and breakfast nearby, she told Town Board members that “you don’t want to hear shooting” when visiting from Brooklyn. “This town is really changing,” she said, transitioning from a rural hunting culture to an economy dependent upon those tourist dollars.
Curry noted that next door to the range is a garden, and that its owner has found shells on his property. She was referring to Ray Lunati, another signer of the letter who was not in attendance at last week’s meeting. Reached by phone, Lunati characterized Campbell as “a really nice guy,” but not someone receptive to limiting the activity. Lunati pointed out that in addition to golfers across the water and various pedestrians on the near side, people regularly paddle by in kayaks.
Lunati is also no stranger to firearms, and frequently will ask visitors to the property to hold off while he’s gardening. “I asked one group who their safety officer was, and they said, ‘what?’” He told them, “You need someone to make sure no one’s behind the berm when you start shooting.” He also remembers the period of explosive discharges, which he said were tannerite, a type of binary explosive target. On that occasion, he called the police himself, and brought the matter to Campbell’s attention. “He said he didn’t want that going on.”
“I didn’t mind when it was people in the neighborhood siting a gun for deer hunting,” Lunati said, “but this is people from all over.” He never sees Campbell or his son among the shooters, and spoke about both in glowing terms, recalling how they interact with neighbors and helped out when the Wallkill floods. Lunati agrees there should be limits placed on the use. “It’s all about consideration,” he said.
Concerns over lead in the soil in this flood-prone area were also raised, but police chief Joseph Snyder said that testing without permission requires a warrant. Campbell’s son, Ben, has disregarded police requests to rein in the activity by posting “no trespassing” signs, Snyder said, and existing laws don’t give them leeway to do much more than ask nicely as long as the explosions don’t resume. It’s legal to discharge a firearm next to a road, just not across it.
Asked about town police officers who use the space, Snyder confirmed at least one member of the force had been known to frequent there, but he’s warned his officers to stay away due to the controversy now surrounding the property.
Board members were unaware of the situation, despite the property being used in this way for many years. Snyder said it’s “in the perfect place” not to be noticed by anyone but neighbors. With it now on the radar, efforts are underway to speak with Campbell and also look into possible legal remedies; as of last Wednesday, Town Supervisor Neil Bettez did not have anything new to report on that front. Doubtless it will be raised on a Town Board agenda in the very near future, with or without 500 angry golfers in the audience.