Published October 15, 2010, 12:00 AM

Shooting preserve can reopen in Ness Township

A pay-to-hunt shooting preserve that was shot down by the St. Louis County Board last year now has permission from the county to reopen.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

A pay-to-hunt shooting preserve that was shot down by the St. Louis County Board last year now has permission from the county to reopen.

Wild Experience Hunting Preserve in Ness Township received approval from the county Planning Commission on Thursday in Virginia for a conditional-use permit that sets out how the business will operate.

Under the permit the 380-acre preserve can be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week between September and May.

Under restrictions suggested by county staff, no birds will be placed within 300 feet of most roadways, and all hunts are supposed to move away from roads and nearby neighbors to help funnel noise and

birdshot away from homes or passing cars.

The permit requires no additional County Board action. Opponents could challenge the permit in court but so far have not said they would.

The conditional-use permit comes after the County Board

approved a plan last month to rezone part of the township to allow the shooting preserve to resume operations. Under the new plan, also approved by the Zoning Commission, about 1,200 acres in the township have been rezoned to allow for the shooting preserve, compared to more than 10,000 acres under a plan that failed last year.

Ness Township is about 40 miles northwest of Duluth.

Several neighbors of the shooting preserve say the operation was noisy and unsafe when it was open and that customers often shot across roadways and trespassed on private property. The say both St. Louis County deputies and Department of Natural Resources officers have ignored their concerns. John Durovec, who owns the shooting preserve, said those claims have been overstated and notes there never has been a citation issued by a game warden or police officer.

Combined with other township residents who opposed rezoning, opponents of the shooting preserve last year managed to convince a majority of county commissioners to vote the plan down. But, with strong support of the town board, Durovec persisted in making changes and gaining board approval this year.

The new plan changes zoning from “Multiple Use, Non Shoreland” to “Forest-Agriculture Management.”

Durovec has agreed to move the hunts to fields farther away from some neighbor’s cow-grazing fields to avoid conflict, although several neighbors still strongly oppose the preserve reopening because hunters will come too close to roads.

Durovec opened Wild Experience in 2003. He obtained a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit for the business but said he didn’t know he needed a county conditional-use permit. County officials shut the preserve down in 2008 pending a zoning change and county permit.

Durovec has reportedly already received proper DNR permits to start selling hunts at the farm.