By David Rainer
Alabama Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources
The wait is finally over for John Woller. The Decatur resident who has been an avid archer for as long as he can remember has been counting the days since the idea was hatched to construct a community archery park in his hometown.
Recently, Woller got to quit counting when the Decatur Community Archery Park was officially unveiled on property adjacent to Point Mallard Park in Decatur.
“One thousand and three days,” said Woller, a former state archery champion who founded Summit Treestands in Decatur in 1981. “That’s how long it’s been since this idea came up. I’m excited. I think it will be great.
“When the idea for an archery park came along and these woods were talked about, I said this would be ideal. You’ve got restrooms right by the ball fields; there’s a water park with a big parking lot. They said, ‘OK, but we’ve got to get everybody’s permission. We’ve got to get TVA’s (Tennessee Valley Authority) permission. We’ve got to get the Department of Interior’s permission. We’ve got to get the State of Alabama’s permission.’ It was like pushing a rope. It was frustrating, but we finally got it all put together.”
Stuart Goldsby, regional hunter education coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said the 55-acre Decatur Community Archery Park is a standard community archery park with eight known-distance targets at varying distances out to 50 yards, eight youth targets out to 20 yards, four simulated hunting targets out to 40 yards and 20 unknown-distance targets in a walk-through area in the adjacent woods.
“Stuart Goldsby deserves all the credit,” Woller said. “He basically built this thing. All I did was push the rope.”
Woller expects the Decatur park will get plenty of use from recreational archery shooters and bowhunters.
“When you’re shooting at a white-tailed deer, everything has to be right,” he said. “You don’t want to make a bad hit, so practice is important. And the kids are excited. That movie ‘Hunger Games’ has them all charged up. The kids are just going to go crazy over this. And, you know the kids need to get off these Nintendos and all that stuff and get outside and have some fun.
“And there will be competition here. The Bowhunters of Alabama will have shoots here. There are 20 lanes where they can put up 3-D targets in the woods. Plus, you’ve got the area with the fixed targets and an elevated platform. It’s ideal.”
During the opening celebration, world-renowned archer Byron Ferguson of nearby Hartselle performed his trick-shooting routine in sweltering, 100 degree heat. His performance ran the gamut from shooting two arrows from his longbow at once to hitting a ping pong ball tossed in the air by his wife, Wanda.
“The youth are the future of the sport,” said Ferguson, who was recently highlighted on the History Channel’s “Extreme Marksmen” series. “We’ve got to show them how much fun they can have shooting a bow and arrow.”
Ferguson, who has taken all game animals in North America with a bow and has made a living in the archery business for more than 40 years, said his introduction to archery was less than spectacular, so youngsters should just enjoy the experience.
“When I started shooting a bow, the fellow at the Western Auto told me to get a pie plate for a target and put it on a bale of hay,” said Ferguson, who has performed his archery exhibition all over the world. “I couldn’t hit the bale of hay, much less the pie plate. It’s a learning process. I guess when I was about 20 years old I realized that I was above average.
“The thing is with kids, they will never forget it. If they don’t shoot but one year at camp and don’t pick up a bow until they’re in their 40s, they’ll always remember that summer shooting archery.”
The building of the Decatur Community Archery Park was a cooperative effort among: Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, TVA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Archery Trade Association and the City of Decatur.
State Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur announced at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that funding is being allotted to build a pavilion on the archery park site.
“It’s everybody coming together to make something happen,” Orr said. “That’s good for the community, good for the area. Whether it was DCNR guys, Fish and Wildlife, local officials, the city, we all came together to make it happen.
“I also wanted to tell you that we have directed an available amount of money to build a pavilion that will enhance the facility and really add a needed component to it.”
Goldsby said the park will be open to the public year-round during daylight hours. Day use of the park is free for those with a valid Alabama hunting or fishing license or those under 16 years of age or over 65 years of age. Residents between 16 and 65 years old without a hunting license or fishing license may purchase a $10 annual Wildlife Heritage License for admittance. Non-Alabama residents are required to purchase a $16 annual Wildlife Management Area license or non-resident hunting license. To use the platform, a full-body harness is required by regulation.
The community archery park is located next to the west entrance of the Aquatic Center in Point Mallard Park.
The Decatur park is the fifth community archery park in Alabama constructed over the last six years. Parks currently in operation are located in Athens, Cullman, Dothan and Demopolis. Goldsby said community archery parks in Tuscaloosa, Heflin and Lincoln are scheduled to be completed this year.
Ray Metzler, assistant chief of WFF’s Wildlife Section, said the role of the Archery Trade Association (ATA) has been crucial for the growth of the community archery program in Alabama. The ATA’s goal is to make archery available in communities just like little league baseball, soccer and other recreational activities.
“The folks at the Archery Trade Association couldn’t be here today, but they are big supporters of what we’re doing in archery across Alabama,” Metzler said. “This is the fifth archery park we’ve opened, and ATA has been involved in every one of them. We couldn’t have done this without them.”