The Grand American shooting event at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta has created a steady firing of gunshots and an almost rhythmic pattern of shattering clay disks since 2006.
But the grounds are scheduled to close soon due to state employee layoffs, bringing with it the end of an era for trapshooters.
Some 120 trap fields span across three and a half miles, creating what has been called the closest thing to the Olympics for amateur trapshooters.
Nine state employees at the complex are being laid off at the end of next month as part of a larger cost-cutting initiative of Gov. Bruce Rauner.
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The Grand American is the biggest annual event at the shooting complex. The event, sanctioned by the Amateur Trapshooting Association, typically draws more than 4,000 participants.
Jim Moody, assistant tournament director for ATA, has been behind the scenes since a year after the event came to Sparta in 2006. He travels more than 400 miles each year to attend the event, and calls the impending closure heartbreaking.
“I think it would be near tragic for this facility to close,” Moody said. “We are very optimistic that a resolution will be effected and this facility will be here for years to come."
Running about 22 individual events, The Grand American draws participants from across the globe.
Australian Samantha Peck traveled about 30 hours to come to the Grand American. Peck said the appeal of the complex and competition is split between the “full-on intensity” of the events and hospitality from the community.
“It is one of the happiest places in shooting for me,” Peck said. “There are about eight of us out here and we all have a great time with all of you guys. It’s like a party. I love, love, love it.”
Her hopes are high to make a third visit next year, and she is reluctant to believe that this is the last time she’ll be shooting in the United States.
“I would be very very sad if it closes,” she said. “I assume it will be moved somewhere else, but at the end of the day, why? The facilities are all here, everyone knows where this is. I think it would be a shame.”
Peck plays a role in what Murphysboro resident Barry Wesley calls a “ripple effect” in the community. With people coming in not only from out of town but also out of state, he feels that the absence of the event will go deeper than the state realizes.
“It's not just about the money made here, it’s about the money made in the community,” Wesley said. “People buy hotel rooms, eat at the restaurants. It’s a ripple effect that is now going to be hurting local business instead of helping it.”