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Public archery park coming to Spruce Hill Park in Douglas County this summer

Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk said the six-target park has potential to grow for archers going forward, but that would likely take the help of an archery club forming to help foster that growth.

Brad Bonk
Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk stands next to the six block targets that will be anchored for archers to shoot on at Spruce Hill Park in Northeast Douglas County starting this summer. The 97-acre park has space that could allow the archery park to grow in the future with the potential for an elevated platform and more targets being added, as well as the potential for a small 3D course.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — There has been talk of trying to find a piece of property in Douglas County to build an archery range and offer a public place where people could go to shoot in the Alexandria area. Archers will now have that opportunity this summer at Spruce Hill County Park .

Lake Brophy County Park was thought of as a potentially perfect fit due to its close proximity to Alexandria. But it became clear through the development of Brophy Park with walking and mountain bike trails, a popular playground area and a beach, that meeting safety standards at one of the most popular parks in the county would be difficult.

“Brophy is the ideal spot, but there’s so much going on there that it’s not safe,” Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk said. “If you want to have a range and have the public use it and not be liable, you have to meet certain setbacks. We couldn’t make (Archery Trade Association) setbacks with the amount of people using other stuff.”

The nearly 97-acre Spruce Hill Park, located in northeast Douglas County about 4 miles east of Miltona, offers plenty of open space to hold an archery range.

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The range is still being finalized through the month of May, but Bonk said it should be ready for archers to shoot on sometime in early June.

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The initial cost for the park has been funded by local individuals and outdoor groups that include the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Parkers Prairie Sportsmen’s Club and Viking Sportsmen. Jim Stratton, a volunteer coach for the Alexandria middle school National Archery in the Schools Program , had a big hand in the making of the targets.

The shooting area will be located on the ballfield on the west side of Spruce Hill Park Road as park goers enter off of County Highway 5.

“The ballfield was full of grass. We have to spray it to keep the weeds down on the ballfield, so it just became, let’s utilize this with something people will use,” Bonk said. “Ideal location for an archery range would be closer to Alexandria, more centrally located, but this is what we have. Let’s see where it goes. I don’t think the county would say, ‘We have an archery range. We’re not going to do another one.’ I think this is a first archery range. Now is there one at Rune Stone Park in a couple years on the other side of the county? Maybe. Or is there one at a different X, Y, Z property. There’s spots where we can continue to do it.”

For this summer, there will be six block shooting targets for archers to use at distances of 15 to 50 yards. There is potential to grow an archery park at Spruce Hill to include more targets and a small 3D course. The space is there.

“For now, we’re going to try it with these six targets. We’d like to expand to 12,” Bonk said. “Realistically, we’d like to get an elevated platform for archers. The (school) archery teams will shoot out here a lot, but the vast majority of the public are going to be hunters practicing. We do want to get to broadheads one day. We do want to get to an elevated platform with multiple targets off of that.

“The other thing that can happen here is we have a nice trail that could function as a 3D range. With the trout in (Spruce Creek) now, we’d have to look at that, but there’s a way you could shoot here and walk back where we could have a small 3D range in the trees.”

The county used to deal with vandalism at Spruce Hill Park, but a unique fishing opportunity with trout being stocked into Spruce Creek since 2019 has drawn more people to the park.

“We haven’t had a lot of (vandalism) since COVID. I attribute it to the trout, but the other thing with COVID is people were just outside and in our parks,” Bonk said. “You see that everywhere, but this place has benefited. I think archery is also a positive because as trout fishing dies down late in the summer, archery is going to pick up toward the fall. Bad stuff doesn’t happen when there’s eyeballs around.”

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Bonk is hopeful that with an archery park starting up, an archery club near the area may develop made up of people who want to see the archery park grow.

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“(Growth of the park) will take financing, but what we really need is an archery club to form,” Bonk said. “When I was in Willmar, we started an archery range in the city. The Little Crow Archers kind of came in and took it over. There will be upkeep. The county will be able to help with this. An archery range is pretty cheap, but what you end up needing for upkeep overall is a club to do that and then dictate the growth of it. To say, ‘Hey, we really want to see this.’ It would be something where maybe an archery club meets out here once a month and they do a little maintenance on the targets and discuss future plans. Something very small. Doesn’t need to be a giant organization, but we expect that to kind of form as people shoot out here.”

The county will conduct the standard maintenance of the park like mowing, and new bathrooms are being added to the area. Bonk said they hope to add a shelter area in the future to make it a location that people want to utilize in groups with friends and families.

The area around Spruce Hill Park and much of Douglas County are part of deer permit area 213. That hunt area had 2,770 archery deer hunters in 2021. That is the fifth highest number of archery licenses sold of any permit area in Minnesota.

The interest in having a place where archers can shoot has long been there in Douglas County. It now exists with the potential that the six-target park at Spruce Hill is only the beginning.

“I always look at things in long time periods,” Bonk said. “You could see building this and having a group of guys and gals get together and make an archery club and see where they could take it to. It doesn’t have to stay here. This could just be the start of it.”

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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