The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Outdoor Education Center in Lincoln, Nebraska officially opened to the public during a Grand Opening ceremony June 7, 2014. A partnership between the Commission, the City of Lincoln, the Easton Sports Development Foundation and other partners, the $2.8 million, 17,700-square-foot center features a 25-yard, 10-lane firearm range and a 25-meter, 32-lane archery range that will be open to the public five days a week, 50 weeks a year.
Check out the YouTube video of the Grand Opening
The center is a giant step forward from the outdoor archery range the city and Commission created at the park in 2006. That 12-position target range is being improved and expanded to Olympic dimensions, with targets to 70 meters. A 20-station walk-through field course popular among hunters and 3D shooters remains as well.
The center will also be home to the Commission’s Hunter and Boating Education staff and programs. Volunteer instructors will be able to access the ranges and the center’s three classrooms on nights and weekends. “It’s just like a rec center for the hunting and shooting sports,” said Jeff Rawlinson, head of the Commission’s outreach programs.
The center’s 32-lane archery range makes it one of the largest in the Midwest. And for shoots that don’t require more than 15 meter targets, the firing line can be flipped 90 degrees to make room for 45 archers. Target bags sit atop wheeled carts that make distance changes easy.
Like the firearm range, there is room to spare behind the firing line for spectators, coaches and shooters waiting their turn, and modular walls on the adjacent classrooms can be opened to provide even more space when needed, making it the perfect venue for large tournaments. Already, it has won the bid to host one of three Indoor National Field Archery Association Midwest Sectional Tournaments in March 2015, which will draw up to 200 archers from Nebraska and six other states. A bid to host the association’s 2015 national tournament is pending. The center will also be home to shooting events for the Cornhusker State Games in 2014 and the State Games of America in 2015.
The outdoor archery course has already hosted several 3D shoots, and volunteers and staff are working to bring other events to the center. Rawlinson said he can see the Commission someday teaming with Lincoln Trap and Skeet, the range’s neighbor, to host large shooting events. “The indoor-outdoor footprint gives us tons of flexibility as to what we can accomplish out here for the shooting sports,” he said.
One advanced program is already slated for those bitten by the shooting bug: The Junior Olympic Archery Development program. Jan Robertson, a USA Archery Level 4 instructor, one step below Olympic coach, will lead the class, moving from a similar post at Prairie Bowmen, a Lincoln club. With both recreational and competitive aspects, Robertson said participants can set the bar as high as they want. “When we find someone who is really interested in developing skills, then we take it a step further with some personal coaching or small group coaching where we really get into all of the subtleties of what’s called the national training system.”
“It’s a way for people who want to get involved in archery to come to first class facilities across the country and learn what it takes to be in the Olympics,” Doug Engh, Easton Foundations Outreach Director, said of the affiliate program. “But we recognize that a lot of people aren’t interested in the Olympics. They want to learn bowhunting or field archery or anything else. We’re cool with that. That’s all part of it. Fling arrows down range, that’s what we want to see.”
The Easton $611,000 grant provided the lion’s share of the matching funds needed to acquire nearly $2 million from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program, which redistributes proceeds from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and other hunting and shooting equipment to the states. Another $78,000 in private grants helped build the center. Only 3.5 percent of the cost of the facility came from local funding: $28,000 was from hunting permit sales and $70,000 from boating license revenue.
The Outdoor Education Center is the sixth Archery Center in the country to receive Easton Foundations funding, and the first to be designated as an Affiliate Archery Center, with others in Florida, Utah, California, South Dakota and Michigan. Three more will open this summer or next spring in Michigan, South Dakota and Georgia. Three are owned and operated by the Easton Foundations, while others are partnerships with cities, universities or non-profit organizations.