Saluda businesses concerned about economic impact of shooting range

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018

SALUDA — “It’s scary for us, as a small business, to fathom what it might do,” said Merideth Saine, general manager of the Gorge Zip Line Canopy Adventure.

The company is just one of many Saluda businesses that could be adversely affected by a proposed Henderson County law enforcement training center and outdoor shooting range, which may be located at 2823 Macedonia Road. If built on the 99 acres on the roadway, the training center would overlook the Green River and the North Carolina Game Lands.

“One of our two river trips floats right past the proposed site, and a good portion of the zip line is in a direct line sight,” said Sara Bell, owner of the Gorge Zip Line Canopy Adventure and Green River Adventures. “Imagine taking your family or church group whitewater rafting or zip lining, and the background noise is gunfire. You probably won’t choose to go back to that location.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Bell added that the zip line stretches over 125 acres of certified “old growth” forest, with trees 200 years old or older.

“That means it has never been logged,” said Bell, who has owned the kayaking business for 12 years, and purchased property to open the zip line six years ago. “When we chose to invest in that property, we certainly would not have chosen that location had there been an outdoor shooting range adjacent to the property.”

Melisa Smith — who, along with her husband, Jason, owns Whistle Stop Pizza in Saluda — said she was concerned word would get around that the city was no longer a quiet, restful, peaceful community.

“People come here for camping, fishing, tubing, waterfall hikes and much more,” Melisa  said. “If you lose the peace and quiet, people won’t come here.”

Melisa stressed that, because her husband is a former law enforcement officer, they strongly support law enforcement, and understand firsthand how important training is for officers.

“But not here,” she said, adding that Jackson County just spent $500,000 to clean up lead contamination at their Southwestern Community College shooting range. 

Jason said there are plenty of training centers in the area, including the one in Rutherford County, which is similar to the one proposed for Macedonia Road.

Melisa said she was concerned about the safety factor as well, noting that weapons can be accidently discharged outside of the shooting range.

Some of the area business owners were not extremely concerned about the proposed training center directly affecting their customer base, because they explained many of their customers were locals.

However, Kaye Strang, owner of the Saluda Grade Café, said she believes the training center will affect everyone.

“As soon as we lose the quiet, we lose the tourists,” she said. “We lose the tourists, we lose the great food and then we lose the community.”

Susan Casey, who has owned the Purple Onion in Saluda for 20 years, said her restaurant and a lot downtown retail shops depend on the outdoor enthusiasts for their customer base. Casey added that because the town is seasonal, it can be really hard for businesses to maintain throughout the year.

She said that business has improved during the winter months because of the outdoor activities such as the Green River Race in November.

“I can see it [training center and shooting range] having a huge economic impact on the area,” said Casey. “No one will want to zip line, fish, hike or kayak to the sound of gun fire.”

In addition to the eco-tourism businesses, the restaurants, hotels and downtown shops being affected, Bell said there are kayak manufacturing businesses that have located in Henderson County because of the Green River Gorge.

“The Henderson County Economic Development team and the tourism board all tout the Green River Gorge as one of the most valuable resources in the county,” Bell said. “It seems illogical for one arm of county leadership to propose a development that would have such adverse affect on the hard work of other areas of county leadership. As businesses and home owners invest their dollars in the area, we need to be able to trust that zoning won’t be changed haphazardly for pet projects.”

On April 12, the City of Saluda Board of Commissioners sent the Henderson County Board of Commissioners a letter requesting a study of the environmental and economic impacts of a shooting range on the Macedonia Road location.

The letter stated, “We are concerned that the proposed outdoor shooting range could have a negative impact upon the quality of life for local residents and the environment, be detrimental to our tourism and eco-tourism based businesses, reduce revenues to local shops and restaurants and reduce property values.”

Henderson County is currently conducting feasibility studies to determine if the Macedonia Road location is suitable for the proposed training center and shooting range. According to Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt, the results of these studies are due May 23, and the board plans to vote on the site in the May 16 meeting.