More outdoor opportunities locally, but cancelation of clay-target championship a loss for Alexandria

Alexandria's Adam Oehlenschlager (left) shares a laugh with teammate Jordon Trenne during a morning session at the Alexandria Shooting Park last spring in Minnesota State High School Clay Target League competition. The possibility still remains through the league for some area shooters to be able to compete virtually. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Those looking for an opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors in different ways have a few more options now after Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order gave golf courses and shooting parks around Minnesota the OK to open while abiding by strict social-distancing policies.

Many local golf courses opened over the weekend and others followed early this week.

"It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19," Walz said in a statement. "This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while still doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy."

Golfers who get out on the course are reminded to continue practicing social distancing. Golf clubs have guidelines in place to try to ensure the safety of players and employees, and the public is encouraged to visit the website or call the particular course they want to golf at to learn about each club’s new rules that they need to abide by.

“It was steady throughout the day,” head golf professional Grant Hanson said of Saturday’s opener at the Geneva Golf Club in Alexandria. “We had many comments on how it was good to get fresh air and some exercise. Our patrons also commented on how safe the process was. This was nice to hear, since safety for our employees and patrons is currently the No. 1 priority.”


New guidelines at courses often include tee times needing to be made ahead of time and online or phone payments when possible. Clubhouses are generally open in a very limited capacity. Playing groups might be capped at a certain number, and as many contact points as possible have been eliminated through things like bunker rakes, benches and ball washers being removed and flag sticks being required to stay in at all times.

Walz’s order allows for more than golf courses to open. Outdoor shooting ranges, game farms, public and private parks and trails, boating and off-road vehicle services are also allowed to reopen or remain open.

“It’s encouraging,” Alexandria Shooting Park owner Tom Townsend said. “We’re headed in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of restrictions with being six feet away from people and nobody coming into the clubhouse. We’re going to have to put a plan together on how to operate. Restrooms will be a little complicated on how we do that, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Townsend said the Alexandria Shooting Park’s target date to open is May 1.

“Shooting is no problem. We have the distance there,” he said. “That’s no problem, but when people are done they probably should leave so they don’t congregate. Things like that. The payment system is going to be a little bit of a challenge.”

Staff at the Alexandria Shooting Park is putting a plan in place right now to make sure it can provide a safe environment for people to come shoot in.

“We should be able to make it work, definitely,” Townsend said of being ready by May 1.

Cancelation of clay target league’s nine-day state championship a big loss

The local shooting park includes 20 trap fields, and a skeet field, along with having banquet facilities and 146 campsites.


That makes Alexandria home to some big clay-target tournaments, including the world’s largest shooting sports event -- the Minnesota state championships through the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League.

This nine-day event in 2019 drew nearly 8,350 kids to the Alexandria Shooting Park where they shot for a chance to qualify as teams for the Minnesota State High School League’s state tournament in Prior Lake.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every big gathering there is, and that includes losing that state championship shoot from June 8-16 this year in Alexandria.

“It’s a big hit,” Townsend said. “It brings probably close to 30,000 people into Alexandria.”

The USA Clay Target League announced on March 30 that due to an extension of the season to June 24, all league sponsored state tournaments and state championships will no longer be held this year.

The modified 2020 USA Clay Target League season allows flexible score-submission options. Virtual participation is being talked about in Minnesota, Townsend said. That would allow student-athletes the ability to shoot at their local shooting park, submit the scores online, and those scores are then compared against other teams.

Alexandria has a perennially-strong high school program in the spring clay target league. They were set to have right around 60 kids taking part again this year.

“We had six or seven seniors. They’ve been in the program for five years and this is their last year,” Townsend said. “Some of them would have made it to the state tournament as far as individuals. I know that with how they shoot, so it was pretty disheartening.”


Townsend said there are close to 40 kids who have signed up to take part in the virtual league if it takes place in Minnesota. Most clay target leagues are not sanctioned with a state’s high school activities association, but the Minnesota State High School League does recognize clay target shooting with a MSHSL state tournament at the end of each season.

Students in Minnesota are currently out of the classroom through at least May 4. With that, MSHSL activities are also suspended.

“There’s some unknown there (in Minnesota),” Townsend said. “The high school league is still up in the air a little. They might try to run a virtual league system yet, so if that comes into play, we’ll be active with some kids shooting.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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