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Archery range established at Occoneechee State Park

South Boston News
School Board trustee Dale Sturdifen and Occoneechee State Park Manager Scott Shanklin discuss the new archery range and its benefits with trustee Sandra Tanner, Superintendent of Schools James Thornton and President of the Friends of Occoneechee State Park, Jim Wilkerson. / March 27, 2013
Long before archery caught on among moviegoers, Occoneechee Park Manager Scott Shanklin was an aficionado of the sport. He built the first archery range at a Virginia State Park 15 years ago at Bear Creek. The range he recently installed at Occoneechee State Park thus becomes the second in the state.

Recent conversations with School Board member Dale Sturdifen, coupled with the popularity of such bow-wielding heroes as Princess Merida (from Pixar's "Brave"), Katniss Everdeen (from "The Hunger Games"), and Hawkeye The World's Greatest Marksman (from Marvel's "The Avengers"), convinced Shanklin he needed to build a new range — this one in Occoneechee.

Sturdifen explained that both Park View and Bluestone middle and high school were given bows, arrows and targets at least two years ago. "It is time to get the equipment out of the closet and into the kids' hands," Sturdifen said.

Leonard Elam, with Mecklenburg County's Extension Office, said his 4-H students were interested in the sport, too, and had started archery clubs at both Bluestone and Park View middle schools. Unfortunately, the students were limited to shooting in the schools' gymnasiums. Shanklin and Sturdifen agreed that the settings offered little challenge.

Now, club members and others have a 10-target circuit ranging from 10 yards to 30 yards where they can practice. Jim Wilkerson, who heads the local Friends of Occoneechee group, a fundraising and support organization, said, "It beats the heck out of video games." He also said the Friends group is happy to be part of any project that benefits the park and makes it better.

"You don't have to be a hunter to enjoy archery. Anyone can compete," Shanklin said. However, it is a sport that, in his opinion, "drives people to be better." The sport allows little room for error; one minuscule shift, amplified over 10, 20, or 30 yards, can doom an arrow that might have otherwise landed squarely on target.

Touring the newly completed range recently with Shanklin, Superintendent of Schools James Thornton said he envisioned a spring field trip so students could test their skills at the facility. Shanklin is encouraging Thornton to promote a national program called National Archery in the Schools. The program offers international-style target archery as part of the in-school curriculum, to improve educational performance and participation in the shooting sports among students in grades 4-12.

Shanklin said, beyond the students, the range made sense for the park’s clientele — predominantly sportsmen, including participants in the monthly 3-D shoots sponsored by Buggs Island Archery in Clarksville.

Those competitions, held the last Saturday of the month, draw several dozen people of all ages, who come to shoot foam images of animals tucked amongst the oak trees at the back of the park.

There is a fee to participate in the Buggs Island Archery monthly competitions. Aside from the parking fee, Occoneechee Park does not charge for use of the range that Shanklin created. "I want to get this going and introduce kids to outdoor activities," he said.

Shanklin thanked Wilkerson and Friends of Occoneechee for raising the money to build the range: "We couldn't have done it without the friends group who invested $2,000 in this project."

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