The state acquisition of Owens Station, in Greenwood, is moving forward, and officials say the purchase will preserve the conservation education center and clay shooting sports facility that opened 30 years ago.
Owner Bill Wolter said he initially began developing the property to train youths in shooting sports.
"I figured if I could create an educational center, [then] maybe I could make a difference in some children's lives," Wolter said.
As a senior with no children to succeed him, Wolter said he wants to transition the property in a way that would maintain and advance his vision.
"I did not want to see this [as] houses," he said. "I worked too hard, for too long, to see that happen."
According to Joseph Fulgham, communications officer for the Delaware House of Representatives' Minority Caucus, the purchase price of the 104-acre facility is $2.25 million and the first installment of $750,000 has been set aside by the state Bond Bill Committee in Delaware's 2014 Capital Budget. The remaining balance will likely be paid in two more installments.
The property contains Delaware's only sporting clays course with about 60 shooting stations, a trap range and a "five stand range." Once the sale is final, Owens Station will be the first state-owned public shooting facility in southern Delaware. The state has long operated Ommelanden Range near New Castle.
Rep. Dave Wilson (R-Bridgeville) is a member of the Bond Bill Committee and said on a per capita basis, more people are involved in hunting and shooting in Kent and Sussex counties than they are in New Castle County.
"This will finally give our downstate residents public access to some of the same amenities that have been available up north for years," Wilson said.
Once the sale is final, Owens Station will be operated by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Apart from the shooting range, the state is also greatly interested in the outdoor recreational opportunities provided by Owens Station. Fulgham said school teachers often utilize the venue for nature walks, as the parcel contains several miles of trails and three small catch-and-release stocked fishing ponds. Also, some of the property is used for the cultivation of Atlantic Coastal panicgrass and switchgrass.
David Small, deputy secretary of DNREC, said Owens Station has been historically used as a hunter education training facility.
"If you were born after Jan. 1, 1967, in the state of Delaware you're required to complete a hunting safety course, so that facility has been and we would envision would continue to be used for hunter education," Small said.
The deputy secretary added that plans for enhancement of the property are still in flux, but addition of a rifle or pistol range is a possibility.
Page 2 of 2 - "The potential use of the site is something we need to evaluate based on whether there's a need in Sussex County to support a rifle or pistol range," Small said.
According to Pat Emory, director of community services for DNREC, state officials are still hammering out a sales contract and need to address the issue of how they will handle leases with private vendors already operating at the facility, including a company that provides kennels for dogs. The contract, Emory said, will also delineate what role Wolter will play in the transition process.
"I think the potential [for Owens Station] is only limited by your mind," Emory said. "[Wolter] has done a tremendous job and I think we can build off of that."