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Sportsman’s Park has shot to be true Naperville ‘jewel’

Jeremy Parqutte of Naperville, works on his shotingot at Sportsman Park in Naperville IL, on Thursday February 23, 2012.  | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Jeremy Parqutte of Naperville, works on his shotingot at Sportsman Park in Naperville IL, on Thursday February 23, 2012. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

Originally, they trapped a passenger pigeon under a hat or in a cage, and released it when the shooter was ready. Then they changed to glass balls filled with feathers, and later to clay targets. Today, the targets are still called pigeons and the things that fling them up into the air are still called traps.

Trap shooting, which is an international sport and an Olympic event, is done in hundreds of clubs around the country, but many believe that Naperville’s Sportsman’s Park is one of the very best. If this year goes as planned, and the necessary funds are found, it will become the jewel of outdoor sporting in Illinois and one of our proudest recreational amenities.

The Sportsman’s Club, which was founded in 1936, was made the steward of the current park property in 1948 and runs today’s shooting program. Sportsman’s Park is the only one in Illinois operated by a park district and, as far as I’m aware, the only one in this area that is public. Shooters don’t have to be members of the club, and don’t even have to be Naperville residents. They must pay a little bit more in each case, but it’s so inexpensive that it really doesn’t matter. For the record, I am not a member and have never shot at Sportsman’s Park.

The park has had its problems. Years ago, a man with a terrible disease became convinced that lead from the park had caused it. It hadn’t, and neither the groundwater nor the fish in the ponds were or are contaminated, but the lawsuits and controversy were enough to close the park for many months.

There was obviously a lot of lead lying around in the shotfall area, however, and the Illinois EPA decided it had to be cleaned up. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Metallic lead, like mercury, becomes toxic only if it is eaten or inhaled. Unfortunately, birds often mistake the shot for food and become poisoned. Today, the targets are biodegradable and only steel shot is allowed.

Steel shot, by the way, doesn’t spread out as much as lead shot, and thus requires less choke, which is a very slight narrowing in the inner diameter of the bore at the far end of the barrel. Radial forces keep the shot together over long distances. Less choke is required in skeet, where the targets come from the side and are closer to you, than in trap, where they are in front of you and farther away.

The cleanup is a very good thing in another way because when the remediation is finished it will allow the property to be used for other outdoor sports when it is not being used for shooting. There are, for example, two large ponds connected by a creek that, if made deeper, would be ideal for fishing. While dredging is admittedly expensive, the creation of two fishing holes in such a beautiful wooded environment that could be used and enjoyed five days a week seems too good to pass up.

Personally, with the provision that the core activity of the park is and always will be shooting, I would love to see the City Council and the people embrace the idea of making Sportsman’s Park what it should be, and what it is my understanding the members of the Sportsman’s Club have always wanted it to be.

While I don’t fish, I would love to have an archery range that I could use when I had a little spare time. And walking paths through the woods would be enjoyed by a great many people.

Once our most populous bird, the last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in Cincinnati a hundred years ago. However, the sport that once abused those birds had long ago moved on and evolved into an activity many families enjoy today and to which many more families should be introduced.

Originally, they trapped a passenger pigeon under a hat or in a cage, and released it when the shooter was ready. Then they changed to glass balls filled with feathers, and later to clay targets. Today, the targets are still called pigeons and the things that fling them up into the air are still called traps.

Trap shooting, which is an international sport and an Olympic event, is done in hundreds of clubs around the country, but many believe that Naperville’s Sportsman’s Park is one of the very best. If this year goes as planned, and the necessary funds are found, it will become the jewel of outdoor sporting in Illinois and one of our proudest recreational amenities.

The Sportsman’s Club, which was founded in 1936, was made the steward of the current park property in 1948 and runs today’s shooting program. Sportsman’s Park is the only one in Illinois operated by a park district and, as far as I’m aware, the only one in this area that is public. Shooters don’t have to be members of the club, and don’t even have to be Naperville residents. They must pay a little bit more in each case, but it’s so inexpensive that it really doesn’t matter. For the record, I am not a member and have never shot at Sportsman’s Park.

The park has had its problems. Years ago, a man with a terrible disease became convinced that lead from the park had caused it. It hadn’t, and neither the groundwater nor the fish in the ponds were or are contaminated, but the lawsuits and controversy were enough to close the park for many months.

There was obviously a lot of lead lying around in the shotfall area, however, and the Illinois EPA decided it had to be cleaned up. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Metallic lead, like mercury, becomes toxic only if it is eaten or inhaled. Unfortunately, birds often mistake the shot for food and become poisoned. Today, the targets are biodegradable and only steel shot is allowed.

Steel shot, by the way, doesn’t spread out as much as lead shot, and thus requires less choke, which is a very slight narrowing in the inner diameter of the bore at the far end of the barrel. Radial forces keep the shot together over long distances. Less choke is required in skeet, where the targets come from the side and are closer to you, than in trap, where they are in front of you and farther away.

The cleanup is a very good thing in another way because when the remediation is finished it will allow the property to be used for other outdoor sports when it is not being used for shooting. There are, for example, two large ponds connected by a creek that, if made deeper, would be ideal for fishing. While dredging is admittedly expensive, the creation of two fishing holes in such a beautiful wooded environment that could be used and enjoyed five days a week seems too good to pass up.

Personally, with the provision that the core activity of the park is and always will be shooting, I would love to see the City Council and the people embrace the idea of making Sportsman’s Park what it should be, and what it is my understanding the members of the Sportsman’s Club have always wanted it to be.

While I don’t fish, I would love to have an archery range that I could use when I had a little spare time. And walking paths through the woods would be enjoyed by a great many people.

Once our most populous bird, the last passenger pigeon, named Martha, died in Cincinnati a hundred years ago.

However, the sport that once abused those birds had long ago moved on and evolved into an activity many families enjoy today and to which many more families should be introduced.

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