Archery is booming in Alabama.
In the past five years, five community archery parks have opened in Alabama cities. Two more are scheduled to open soon, including one five miles from the Talladega Superspeedway, and another is under construction in Tuscaloosa.
“And we are not stopping,” said Stuart Goldsby, hunter education coordinator for Alabama's Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
“We are looking for more cities to go into. We're actually talking right now to Orange Beach. People can go to the coast, enjoy the beach and go out and shoot on the same vacation.”
The boon in the Archery in the Schools program — Alabama has more than 250 schools now teaching archery — was the catalyst for the archery parks concept, Goldsby said. With so much participation in archery by students, it created a demand for more places to shoot, he said.
“It's giving someone a place to go, making archery a mainstream park and recreation activity, just like baseball, softball, soccer and everything else,” Goldsby said
Alabama's Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries builds the archery ranges at public parks around the state, partnering with that city's parks and recreation department.
The stage wildlife agency pays for the materials, construction and targets (typical $10,000 to $12,000) through federal and industry grant money. The cities are responsible for maintenance of the archery parks.
At each one, there is a tower or platform range to simulate the hunting experience. The platform is 12-feet high with targets as far away as 40 yards, Goldsby said.
“Underneath the tower, we actually put an artificial blind so someone can shoot through a window like they are shooting through a blind,” he said.
If there is enough land available in the park, a walk-through archery course with targets at varying distances is constructed in addition to the static range.
Very few cities have balked at the idea because of fears someone would be injured, Goldsby said.
“If they have a piece of property that will work, that we deem safe enough to use, then it seems to work out real well,” Goldsby said. “We have not approached many cities that have said ‘no, we don't do this because of safety.' It's typically because they don't have the property to put it on.”
Shooting at the archery park requires a state hunting license or Alabama's Wildlife Heritage License, which costs $10 annually. Because the archery parks provide an easy and free place to shoot, archery is becoming a family sport for many in Alabama, Goldsy said.
“It's just been phenomenal here in Alabama,” he said of the parks' popularity. “You got soccer moms who are bringing their kids who are shooting in school.
“The entire family can shoot together. It's not just the parents in the stadium with the kids on the playing field now. It's everybody on the playing field together.”