Angeles National Forest officials are working to clean up and improve safety conditions in a popular shooting area where two people died last year.
Middle Shooting Area, one of 13 spots where it is legal to shoot in the forest without supervision, was closed June 1. The area will remain closed until July 15 to give workers time to move a road, install signs delineating specific spots where shooting will be allowed and clean the site, which is littered with everything from shell casings to old refrigerators.
Middle Shooting Area, about 20 miles north of La Canada Flintridge, is one of 16 places established by forest officials in 1981 to discourage indiscriminate shooting in the mountainous 1,000-square-mile forest. But in the past five years, seven people have died from stray bullets in the areas and three of the original 16 areas have been closed permanently because they were unmanageable or unsafe, said Marilyn Hartley, an Angeles National Forest spokeswoman.
Forest officials said that if the measures taken at Middle--one of the most popular shooting areas in the forest--do not improve safety conditions, it also may be closed. The safety measures, expected to cost about $10,000, are required by the Angeles Forest Land Management Plan, which took effect in December.
Middle Shooting Area, like the forest's other such areas, is unpatrolled. Shooting is allowed into the walls of the narrow, steep-walled canyon from either side of a road that runs down the middle of the bullet-scarred landscape. Regulations prohibit shooting after dark and across roadways and, since last August, forbid alcoholic beverages in the areas.
In November, a Montrose man was shot and killed at Middle Shooting Area. Twenty to 30 people were in the area and authorities have not been able to determine who fired the shot. In December, a 13-year-old Los Angeles boy who shot at an automobile wheel was struck and killed by the ricochet, Hartley said.
About 200 people crowd the area on a typical Saturday, officials said. The area is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but most people visit on weekends. Park rangers estimate that more than 250,000 people use the 1 1/2-mile canyon each year.
People using the area park close to each other along the road on weekends, increasing the chance of accidents, said Steve Bear, acting district ranger for the Tujunga District. The new signs will be placed at points along the road and shooting in the areas between the signs will be prohibited, he said. The road itself is being redirected to prevent shooters from aiming into a canyon wall directly behind the district ranger station, less than a mile away.
"We've been trying to make the place a little bit better as we go along," Bear said. "We're learning more and more about it, by trial and error, more or less."
Bear said forest officials are considering turning the area over to a private concessionaire to be run along the lines of a more traditional target range. But target shooters oppose such a change, and Bear said officials have not actively pursued those plans.