JEROME • Dave Guymon and his son, Nate, like to ride their ATVs at the Snake River Canyon Park at least once a week.
They were there Tuesday afternoon, spinning circles in the mud and roaring over rises as Jet, their black Lab, occasionally sprinted in pursuit. Even with the roar of engines, nearby gunshots were audible.
The popular park just east of U.S. Highway 93, on the north rim of the Snake River Canyon, is a prime spot for shooters to practice. But their continued use of the area is jeopardized by litter they leave and safety concerns for other park users. Officials are weighing options including banning shooting.
“They shoot wherever they want and they don’t pack out their garbage,” Jerome County Commission Chairman Charlie Howell said Wednesday as he toured the site.
One popular diversion is to bring broken televisions to the park and use them for target practice, leaving the debris there, he said. He sometimes rides a horse through the maze of trails and knows firsthand about the potential danger.
“It’s always nerve-wracking when you hear those bullets whistle over your head,” he said.
As if to illustrate the point, rounds from an unseen shooter whizzed through the air as Howell spoke.
Seemingly, there’s enough room for everyone to recreate safely. The park includes 6,500 acres owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and 700 acres under Idaho Department of Lands control.
Howell said the county has a management agreement with the BLM, but not with the Department of Lands. Talks between the county and state aimed at establishing enforcement policies for the problems haven’t been successful.
Jerome County commissioners hope to hold public hearings during the next two months to see what kind of crackdown, if any, citizens favor. Sheriff Doug McFall’s office is currently researching the cost if deputies began enforcing restrictions in the park.
At this point, Howell emphasized, Jerome County has no authority to enforce any regulations on state-owned property. That’s critical because it’s the closest portion of the park to Twin Falls and Jerome, and is the most heavily used by shooters and ATV and motorcycle riders.
For riders such as the Guymons, ridding the park of litter would be welcome.
“There are couches and all kinds of stuff out here,” said Dave Guymon, 41, of Jerome.
A quick survey of the area where he and 22-year-old Nate were riding turned up a long list of discarded items. There were lots of shotgun shell casings, a prescription bottle, an antifreeze bottle, an empty oil can, cardboard boxes, lengths of rope and hose, soft drink bottles, broken glass, and even a foam cushion apparently from a chair.
While the Guymons emphasize that everyone should be able to use the park, they’re aware that shooters might be practicing anywhere. Some recently took Nate by surprise — he crested a small hill on his ATV just as shooters were firing at the incline below him. He suggested that designating certain areas of the park for different activities might be a safer way to go.
Dave said most shooters don’t litter, pinning that label on just a few careless people.
Tim Yenne, 34, of Jerome, likes to shoot at the park but sides with those who criticize the littering. He was in the park Tuesday, and said he often hauls out garbage left by other people.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Yenne said. “You can have lots of fun out here without bringing out ridiculous stuff like TVs and chairs.”
Still, he opposes any movement to prevent shooting in the park, and said most who do are trying to improve their skills to become safer hunters.
“If they ban it out here, you’ll see lots more shooting where people shouldn’t be — like in the city limits,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Morgan Diaz parked his automobile just beyond the stoplight at Highway 93 and Shoshone Falls Road to shoot his AR-15. The 41-year-old Jerome resident said shooters should be welcome at the park “as long as you are responsible.”
That means cleaning up after a shooting session, said Diaz, who makes a point of picking up shell casings and other items.
“Everybody has a right to the land,” Diaz said, “but if you pack it in, pack it out.”
BLM spokeswoman Heather Tiel-Nelson acknowledged that use of the park “has been an issue for a number of years.” She hopes things can be worked out so everyone can still enjoy their own brand of recreation.
That’s Howell’s goal, too. He believes closing the park to shooting would cause more problems than it solved.
“If you shove them off this land they’re going to go somewhere else,” he said.