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World Shooting & Recreation Complex - How Did It Go So Wrong

Advice for the Shooter

"The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 received a letter from Illinois Department of Central Management Services, dated Jan. 11, stating that union workers will receive layoff notices in the near future.

The letter, addressed to Roberta Lynch, AFSCME’s executive director, states, "Due to the recent court decision, we are now implementing the Sept. 2015 layoff. The proposed effective date of the layoff is at the close of business on Jan. 31, 2017."

The layoffs will affect the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Sources close to the World Shooting and Recreational Complex have stated the layoff will affect AFSCME employees at the site.

The WSRC was closed after the 2015 Grand American. The closure resulted in the loss of the Scholastic Clay Target Program’s college competition. The Amateur Trapshooting Association explored the possibility of moving The Grand American, the largest trapshooting competition in the world, but reached an agreement with IDNR.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources would not comment on the layoffs, or plans for the facility." January 2017 Press Release.

How in the world can something with so much potential go so terribly wrong? I was there when the ribbon cutting took place and Southern Illinois welcomed the opening of the World Shooting & Recreation Complex. There was so much excitement in the air. Finally, Southern Illinois had something to draw people literally from all over the world. The Grand American Trap Shooting Chapionship (the Grand) would be held there, drawing over 100,000 people during its 10 days. Vendors of all kinds had established permanent locations and spent thousands of dollars in building their facilities.

The facility is the "real deal" with 1500 acres which included over 3 miles of trap fields and areas for every shooting discipline. I've been there. I've seen it all. So what happened that produced the press release above?

In reality, the complex closed about 2 years ago. There have been 2 "Grands" since that time but the complex was opened just for that event. Otherwise, it's been closed to the public. Now, the State of Illinois plans to lay off the employees that have remained there since the site was closed.

So, what happened? A better question might be, what didn't happen? The fact is that the facility just never took off as it should have. Yes, there were numerous events there, probably the one with the most hope was the Scholastic Clay Chapionship that drew at one time over 2600 young shooters from all over the U.S. There were cowboy action shoots and sporting clays shoots. There was activity but frankly, just not enough and not often enough.

I remember my last visit very well. I was taking a group of men there who wanted to have a sporting clays event. As I drove into the complex I was startled to see no visible activity. There may have been 5 cars in the vast parking lot. We met in the restaurant and there were 2 people there, at lunch time. So, maybe it was a bad day.

After our meeting, in which we were warmly received and plans were finalized for the event, I asked about activity. It had "picked-up" I was told and several upcoming events were discussed. I was frankly shocked at how little was going on there. Apparently, the current activity was much better than it had been however and hopes were high.

Just so we're clear, the facility is owned by the State of Illinois and State of Illinois employees operate it. The financial state of Illinois has been widely publicized, so I won't spend time laboring over that issue. The facts are however the facts. Rather than finding an individual or company that has experience in running a large shooting complex, the State decided to do it.  I have no idea what the budget was for running it, or even if there was a budget for it. At any rate, at some point, the State decided it could no longer afford to run it and the doors were closed.

What's the future hold for the WSRC? First of all we all know that when facilities are not used, they tend to deteriorate very quickly. What will happen to the equipment and facilities when the final employees leave? Is there a plan for maintenance or will the site just be left on its own? What about the "Grand" for 2017? There are more questions than answers certainly.

Perhaps there is one lesson that might come from all of this. Private enterprise, with the incentive of profit, generally does better at managing a business than does any body of government. Let's hope that lesson is not lost on those with the authority to do something about this situation. The WSRC is just too fine a facility to revert to bare earth.



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