New Management

FWC Takes Over Tenoroc Shooting Ranges


Tenoroc Fish Management Area is gradually returning to a more natural state thanks to a comprehensive wetlands restoration plan in Lakeland FL on Thursday December 9 2010. This is the new east waterfowl area that is not quite complete yet.

Scott Wheeler / Ledger Media Group
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 11:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 11:54 p.m.

LAKELAND | Shooting ranges at Tenoroc Fish Management Area in North Lakeland will be under new management beginning in mid-February.

Tenoroc Shooting Sports and Training has leased the facility from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the past 13 years.

But the FWC will take over management on Feb. 14 when the current three-year lease to range vendors Mark and Christine Smith expires.

"The agency will be staffing it. We'll be maintaining it. And we'll be running it," said John Weatherholt of the FWC.

Weatherholt said the rifle, pistol and sporting clays ranges will remain open during the transition at regular hours — open Thursday through Monday and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We're still going to be operating five days a week. We may look at seven days a week in the future," said Weatherholt, the FWC's regional program coordinator for public safety and public shooting ranges.

The FWC is adding a new trap facility and creating a 16-station sporting clays course and five-stand range for shotgun enthusiasts. It is also building classrooms and offices across Tenoroc Mine Road where the archery range is located that will host hunter safety classes and youth events. There will be a new concrete block building for restrooms, a control booth for safety officers, security cameras and a public address system at the rifle and pistol ranges, and a concessionaire store for supplies.

The change is part of the FWC's move to take over all seven of its public ranges statewide by mid-February.

"We will have no more concessionaire contracts around the whole state after next month," Weatherholt said.

"It's been a long time coming. We were actually challenged about four years ago by one of our commissioners, Dick Corbett. He said we need to man and run our own facilities," Weatherholt said.

Job listings for a range manager and three safety technician officers will be posted. Weatherholt will oversee the ranges as supervisor.

The FWC also is taking over management of the facility on state-owned land because it is included in the proposed Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network.

The youth conservation center will host events for fishing, hunting and archery, with day camps and summer programs part of future plans. The vision for the conference center is to build it just west of the gate to the shooting ranges.

"We want to build some lodges and actually have a facility where we can hold summer camps for kids," Weatherholt said.

Smith and his wife have been fighting the changeover for six months.

"It's disappointing to us. I posted it on Facebook, and we've received almost 200 phone calls and 110 (Facebook) posts," Mark Smith said Monday. "It's going to affect some people."

Smith, who also owns the Ultimate Arms gun store on North Combee Road, said they will continue to operate until the changeover. He said it is possible they might open a range elsewhere in Lakeland.

"Christine and I are looking at it," he said. "I'm thinking about building an indoor pistol range on the property (at Ultimate Arms)."

Smith said Tenoroc Shooting Sports and Training has become increasingly popular for area shooters. He said there were 4,000 customers each year when they started.

"Now we're at about 20,000 a year. We hold almost 100 charity events a year," he said. "We've seen a lot of growth in the past 13 years."

Smith said he has paid close to $20,000 per year to lease the Tenoroc facility.

"It's been a profitable thing for them, I can guarantee that," Smith said.

Weatherholt said the FWC is not operating the ranges to make money.

"We're not doing this for profit. The cost incurred by users will be enough to pay for the cost of operating the facility. That will be a big plus for the users," he said.

The cost of the rifle and pistol ranges may decrease. The cost for sporting clays and trap will be based on the number of clay pigeons thrown.

Weatherholt said the trap facility will eventually have a low house and high house to accommodate skeet shooting.

The FWC is buying new wireless traps for the sporting clays course.

The FWC will continue to operate the ranges out of the modular building currently used. Weatherholt said they plan to build a metal building to house equipment.

[ Del Milligan can be reached at del.milligan@theledger.com or at 863-802-7555. ]

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