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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation can move forward with a plan to construct a musket range near the Golden Horseshoe golf course.
The Williamsburg City Council approved the proposal at its meeting Thursday in a 4-0-1 vote. Vice Mayor Paul Freiling abstained from voting and discussion, as he is employed by the foundation.
The plan calls for the construction of a live-fire musket range at a 46-acre wooded site at 640 South England St.
Colonial Williamsburg guests who visit the range would be able to fire authentic and replica 18th-century firearms, including the brown bess rifle and blunderbuss, under the guidance of licensed instructors.
The four council members who voted were generally supportive of the proposal, and several referred to Colonial Williamsburg’s attractions as high-quality.
“We keep talking about history being boring,” Councilman Doug Pons said. “This has the tangible aspect of vacations that people look for.”
Colonial Williamsburg has presented the plan as a way to generate excitement for the living history museum, which has seen steadily declining attendance in recent years. Foundation President Mitchell Reiss announced the initial plan for the range during a breakfast with community leaders in May. Reiss also outlined plans to construct a petting farm near Duke of Gloucester Street.
Prior to the vote, the council held a public hearing on the musket range proposal. Speakers were divided on the plan.
Williamsburg Hotel-Motel Association Executive Director Ron Kirkland came out in support of the proposal as a potential boost for the area’s tourism offerings.
“Any time Colonial Williamsburg adds an activity, it’s of benefit to the community,” Kirkland said. “Adding more interacting and unique experiences such as the musket range can do nothing but help tourism.”
Dean Canavos, owner of Capitol Pancake House on Capitol Landing Road, also spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it could help bring families back to the Historic Triangle.
Fredrika Teute criticized the plan as more focused on driving tourism figures than educating guests on 18th-century American firearms culture. She also suggested the plan could pose a safety risk to guests.
“In the context of this year’s events, [it] has an open invitation to deranged individuals to come shoot, not at the targets, but at tourists waiting their turn,” Teute said.
Port Anne resident Mark Evert questioned whether the sound coming from the musket range would be a nuisance for nearby neighbors, and suggested the loss of foliage in the fall and winter could lead to higher noise levels in those months.
“I used to belong to a gun club myself, so I know how far the sound travels when these, particularly muskets [go off],” Evert said. “I’m a little worried about what will we run into if it turns out that the sound is actually obtrusive.”
Colonial Williamsburg conducted a study on sound produced by the musket range, gauging noise levels at four sites near the range at varying distances. The closest site – a location on the ninth hole of Golden Horseshoe about 500 feet from the range – registered a noise level of about 67 decibels. A normal conversation is about 65 decibels.
The proposal also calls for the construction of a berm around the range at a height of 10 to 20 feet, which would likely dampen any sounds coming from the range.
While the council ultimately approved the plan, the public concerns over noise convinced them to attach a provision to prohibit the range from producing noises in excess of 60 decibels – the level specified in the city’s noise ordinance – within 1,000 feet of the range.
“This has the potential to create an educational experience that is both fun and educational,” Mayor Clyde Haulman said.