CLARK—Watching the platoon of volunteers set one fence post after another, Mike Tully could not believe how quickly his dream of a first class archery range was finally becoming a reality.
For the past three years, the Union Township resident searched for sites where area archers could practice their sport. So when the Union County Board of Freeholders decided to close the Oak Ridge Golf Course in Clark and convert it to a park, Tully saw a golden opportunity.
His perseverance paid off. With members of the Cranford Rod & Gun Club supplying the manpower and the county providing materials and logistical support—and a design that received a hearty endorsement from the county—a brand new Olympic-style archery range is taking shape at Oak Ridge and is expected to open to the public in early July.
The archery range is utilizing an area where golf pros would hold their lessons. While the isolated section was buffered from the rest of the golf course by woodlands, the volunteers put in nearly 800 feet of split-rail fencing and warning signs so that people will not wander onto the range.
They also set an 8-foot stockade fence along one side to give neighboring property owners more privacy.
“It’s a dream come true for us,” said Tully, an expert archer.
The site for the new archery range worked out perfectly, said Al Faella, who oversees the county parks department.
“The dedication and effort by all these volunteers was just incredible,” said Faella, who visited the site one recent Saturday to check on the progress.
“Their work was nothing but first class—although it didn’t hurt that one of the club’s members installs fencing for a living,” he said. “But the area is now protected with all the necessary warnings so that people do not wander onto the range.”
“The Cranford club is not the biggest of organizations and for their members to give so much of their time for a facility that will be used by archers from across the state, really says a lot about them. We really owe them a debt of thanks,” Faella said.
Area archers used to be able to practice in a section of Lenape Park in Cranford, where the county’s trap and skeet range was located. But when environmental concerns closed the range, that ended the archers’ recreation as well. Youngsters in Union County’s 4H archery program have had to practice in an attic above Westfield Police headquarters, Tully said.
For a sport that attracts an estimated 4,000 enthusiasts in New Jersey alone, the new range is expected to foster additional interest in the sport, Tully said, noting that a number of Union County residents have made the U.S. Olympic Archery team over the years.
Working mostly on weekends, the members of the Cranford Rod & Gun Club put in well over 500 man-hours to make the archery range, said club member Ray Szpond, who coordinated the club’s work.
The search for a new home had gone on for years, Szpond said. So when county officials signed off on the plan for Oak Ridge, there was a “sense of urgency” to get the project done quickly, he said.
“The county said they would supply the materials, but they couldn’t cut loose 20 people to do this,” Szpond said.
But the 30 some-odd active members of the club were more than willing.
“Before, we would have to travel to Hunterdon County to a state facility,” Szpond said.
Unlike the Clinton facility, where there are only two lanes and the maximum target distance is 20 yards, the Oak Ridge range will have 22 lanes, with archers able to set their targets anywhere from 10 to 90 meters, just over 100 yards.
“This is going to end up being the premier archery range in New Jersey,” he said, noting how there will be an observation area with benches, along with picnic benches for families to enjoy the day in the park.
Also volunteering their time to build the archery range were members of United Bow Hunters of New Jersey, Traditional Archers of New Jersey, Union County 4H Club and area Boy Scouts. Instrumental in guiding the effort were Elizabeth residents Louis Sarmiento Sr. and Louis Sarmiento Jr., professional fence installers and members of United Bow Hunters.
While the shooting area is wheelchair accessible, a separate parking section, with 13 handicapped spaces, was also created to accommodate groups like the North Jersey Navigators, who promote sports such as archery for people with disabilities.
For more information regarding the new range, contact the county parks department at 908-527-4900.
Members of the Cranford Rod & Gun Club volunteered their time to help build Union County’s new archery range at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. Club President Ray Szpond Jr., of Scotch Plains, shifts one of the fence posts into position as John Pisano of Cranford uses a steel bar to adjust the bottom of the post. In the background, club member George Anest of Rahway, is setting another rail.
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