After years of controversy and delay, officials will gather Saturday for the official ground breaking for the county shooting range northeast of Castle Rock.

The Cowlitz Public Shooting Range is rising on county land off Toutle Park Road with volunteer labor from the Cowlitz Game & Anglers. The county will own the range, but the outdoors group will operate it as a concessionaire.

The range has been opposed by neighbors, who say the noise will disturb their rural tranquility. They also question use of county funds for the project. County commissioners have pledged a $245,000 loan to finish construction of the range, and officials said some or all that loan may be forgiven.

Commissioners supported the project because they said the county needs a safe, public shooting range, noting that a shooting range is the county's top recreational priority.

The range will be built in two phases at a total estimated cost of $510,000. Work must be completed by May of 2014 to satisfy the special use permit for the site. Organizers are still trying to raise the final $20,000 needed to complete the project, perhaps through grants.

Work began in August, and officials hope to have part of the range open for shooting in January, said Dick Miller, president of the Cowlitz Game & Anglers.

The featured speaker at the ground breaking will be Cowlitz County Commissioner George Raiter. A small reception will follow. Dress is described as "construction site casual."

Saturday's ceremony is at 11 a.m. The range is located at 1000 Toutle Park Road. From Interstate 5, take exit 52, than drive east to Burma Road and north to Toutle Park Road. The range is at the end of the road.

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