National Wild Turkey Federation has big plans for expansion
EDGEFIELD — The National Wild Turkey Federation is spreading its wings. The organization plans to add a world-class shooting complex and an outdoor education center to the campus of its headquarters on Augusta Road.
George Thornton, the federation's CEO, hopes the new facilities will attract 15,000 to 20,000 visitors annually, create approximately 50 new jobs and increase interest in the preservation of wildlife habitats and hunting.
“We've only been working on this project since last September, and it's been all hands on deck to get a general contractor and an architect,” he said. “But now we're fully underway, and things are going to be changing here very quickly.”
The federation launched the major expansion, which will cost $10 million, by acquiring 570 acres of land adjacent to its headquarters' 130-acre campus. Logging to clear some of the new property started in March and is almost done.
Surveying work should be completed by early June, and grading and earth-moving efforts will start soon afterward.
The first phase of the project is the Palmetto Shooting Complex. It will have five trap and skeet fields, three sporting clay courses, a 3D archery range and a rifle and pistol range. Also located in the complex will be a 6,000-square-foot pavilion, a 185-space recreational vehicle park and another 6,000-square-foot structure called the Roundhouse that will have classrooms.
“We expect it (the shooting complex) to be open in January 2015,” Thornton said. “We have already scheduled five shooting championships, and the inaugural event will be in April 2015. Our goal is to have 10 championships here every year. Each event will bring in 500 to 600 shooters and anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 people in all. Some of them will need to stay in Aiken, Augusta and Greenwood.”
The shooting complex also will be open to the public.
Much of the development of the outdoor education center will take place during the expansion's second phase. The center will have cabins, dormitories, rustic campgrounds and an amphitheater. There will also be rope courses and hiking trails.
“We'll be doing demonstrations on conservation, wildlife management and habitat development and restoration,” Thornton said. “We'll be offering day camps and residence camps, and we'll do hunter education. Wildlife biology students will come here to work on projects, and corporate groups will be able to hold leadership courses. Our facilities also will be available to people who need a place to stay during The Masters.”
The federation's chief conservation officer, Dr. James Earl Kennamer, estimated the entire project would take at least four or five years to finish. The federation has a $2 million commitment from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources that will be spread over three years and $1.8 million in private donations so far to finance the venture.
The inspiration for the expansion is a federation initiative called “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.,” according to Thornton. Drops in wild turkey numbers caused by the loss of suitable habitats and a decline in interest in hunting led to the creation of the program. The shooting complex and outdoor education center will play important roles.
“We want to introduce more people to the shooting sports in hopes that they will move into some form of hunting,” Thornton said. “We also want to encourage the protection of more land, not only for hunting, but for bird-watching, camping, fishing, hiking and all the things that people do outside.”
The federation is a national nonprofit conservation group that has 230,000 members and volunteers.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.