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County eyes Pinnacle Mountain land for firing range

Henderson County officials are looking at a large tract of land near DuPont State Forest for a firing range and law enforcement training center, say neighbors who have been told about a possible purchase.

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The adjoining property owners said in interviews this week that they learned that the county had approached Boyd L. “Bub” Hyder about buying a 550-acre parcel of undeveloped land near the intersection of Pinnacle Mountain and Sky Valley roads in southern Henderson County. They oppose development of the property for a firing range, for many of the same reasons residents opposed Sheriff Charlie McDonald’s plan to build a training center at the old Camp Flintlock property in Green River last August.
A fresh controversy over a shooting range would be the third time in two years that neighbors have raised a vocal and organized protest of the use. Two years ago, residents of the Dana and Oleta Falls area successfully fought a private shooting range after a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing that extended over several nights. Last August, the Board of Commissioners pulled the plug on McDonald’s Camp Flintlock choice after a large crowd turned out at a board meeting and offered emotional testimony against the use.
The commissioners are likely to face a similar uprising if the county moves ahead with the Pinnacle Mountain purchase.
“You’ve got to be brain dead to think that this is a good place to put a war zone,” said Diana Johnston, a retired attorney who lives on Pinnacle Mountain Road. “I’m really hoping that what they’re hoping to do comes out and that they will just stop it. But who knows? Reason has not always been the main thing here with the county.”
Johnston and a neighbor, James “Bo” Perry, only recently learned about the county’s interest in the property.
“I ran into an acquaintance and he said, ‘What’s going on? I heard the sheriff was up there on Pinnacle Mountain looking at property,’” Perry said.
Perry said he called Hyder, an acquaintance he’s known for many years, and asked him about it.
“From my conversation with Bub Hyder he wasn’t trying to sell this. They just found out that he had a tract of land in this area,” Perry said. When county officials said they didn’t need 500 acres, Hyder responded that he wouldn’t sell less, according to Perry. “He said he wasn’t interested and they left.” Then the officials came back and offered to buy the whole tract.
“Right now from what I gather — I talked to Bub Hyder this morning and he had not received the contract from the county and I asked him if he was still interested in someone else trying to buy the property,” Perry said. When he asked for a price range, Hyder declined to give one.
“No,” Hyder said when a Hendersonville Lightning reporter asked if was selling his land to the county. “Not that I know of. I don’t have no money, I don’t have no contract. They ain’t bought nothing from me.”

Enlisting conservationists

Meanwhile, Johnston and Perry have enlisted the help of other conservation-minded Green River landowners, including Sandy Schenck, who has put hundreds of acres in a conservation easement, and Jim Miller, the third generation Camp Greystone owner. They’ve also talked to the Friends of DuPont Forest and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
“CMLC had been working with the Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund to get funding to purchase the Hyder land, which is the number one purchase priority for the Friends of the Forest,” Johnston wrote in an email to Renee Kumor, the former Henderson County commissioner. “They have been blindsided by the County's attempt to buy the land. Following our meeting, Kieran (Roe) contacted other friends of the forest to inform them.” (Kumor told Johnston she could not offer advice because she serves on the N.C. Cleanwater Management Trust Fund, which gives grants to underwrite water quality projects.
Roe declined to go into any specifics.
“I don’t know if I have too much to say about it right now,” he said. “We’re always interested in conserving good tracts of land and we’d work with partners there to make a good outcome possible.”

‘Absolutely incompatible and damaging use’

Johnston, Perry and potentially others planned to meet Wednesday with Brian Gulden, a former Henderson County planner and Asheville attorney who successfully fought the Dana shooting range and advised Green River residents gearing up to fight the Camp Flintlock training center.
Perry said he’s afraid that a firing range would severely harm one nearby use — a therapeutic camp for troubled teenagers — and unsettle residents for miles around.
“I think the noise would be unbearable,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 50 years and I know how sounds carries. That road is the Continental Divide. Sound would carry to Green River, Rock Creek and DuPont State Forest.”
The residents say that because the land is zoned R-3 residential, a shooting range would need approval by the county Zoning Board of Adjustment. If that happens, they’re expected to fight, as the Dana residents did and the Green River landowners were preparing to.
“The question is how to stop this absolutely incompatible and damaging use in an area where quiet and unspoiled nature are essential for the success of nearby camps and Dupont Forest, the economic engines of Henderson County,” Johnston wrote.
Henderson County received $3 million when Buncombe County bought the Bent Creek property on the French Broad, the subject of a long-running political dispute over water resources, and commissioners have earmarked the money for a law enforcement training center.
McDonald strongly defends the need for a tactical training center and firing range. He deferred questions about any specific land purchase to the commissioners.
“I certainly don’t want to overstep my bounds,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty much bruised up by this thing at this point in time. If past experience is any indicator I’m not hanging my hat on a positive outcome.”
Echoing the comments their neighbors to the south made eight months ago, Pinnacle Mountain residents say they want more openness and more answers if the county does move ahead with the land purchase.
“This is a political fireball,” Johnston said, “and the notion that they can just have a finished agreement before any kind of public discussion is outrageous.”