Shooting complex has new executive director

Sparta, Ill. — DNR’s ongoing effort to utilize the World Shooting Recreation Complex as a productive asset was ratcheted up a notch when it recently hired a local businessman to oversee day-to-day operations.

Art Ashbrook, who has owned and operated an insurance and real estate business in Sparta, was named executive director of the WSRC. His first day on the job was June 25.

Ashbrook, 45, of Pinckneyville, assumed his duties just as two of the WSRC’s largest events commence.

“As we speak there are about 1,800 youth shooters arriving here for the SCTP,” Ashbrook noted. “And in a couple of weeks the Grand American returns.”

The SCTP – Scholastic Clay Target Program – has been a popular trap, skeet and sporting clays competition for shooters in grades 12 and under. The Grand American, the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s signature event, brings thousands of shooters and spectators to southern Illinois each August.

Ashbrook’s charge is to build upon the WSRC’s shooting event scheduled.

“My job is to oversee the facility and keep the calendar full,” he said. “The shooting complex is an incredible place, and it means a lot to the local community. I want to help it grow. We have a good staff and excellent place for people to shoot.”

DNR Director Marc Miller said Ashbrook, a past-president of the Sparta Chamber of Commerce, was a natural choice.

“We wanted someone local, with ties to the local community who could deal with issues locally and knows the area well,” Miller said.

Ashbrook assumes duties performed by Ron House, DNR’s director of Land Management. House was holding down a number of responsibilities, and handing over management of the WSRC would help him concentrate on other important agency matters, Miller said.

Meanwhile, as Ashbrook transitions into the new role leading the entire WSRC, DNR is in the process of adding a new marketing person to the staff to help the facility attract more shooters, more groups and events – and more dollars.

“We’re going to put someone at the site to work on marketing it,” Miller said. “We have had a marketing person based in Springfield, but we feel it’s important to have that person there in Sparta to work hand-in-hand with Art.”

Maintaining a solid relationship with the ATA is vital to the job, Ashbrook said. The ATA brought its Grand American Championship to Sparta immediately after the WSRC opened seven years ago.

Most involved in the ATA moving its signature event from Ohio admits that it took shooters a while to warm up to the WSRC in southern Illinois after eight decades in Ohio. At first, it was easy to find faults at the DNR-operated site: it was difficult to get to, shade is a precious commodity, and it’s too spread out.

After a few years, the feelings changed. In fact, in 2012 ATA and DNR signed a 10-year extension for the Grand American.

This year’s event, set for Aug. 3-17, is expected to draw between 3,000 to 4,000 participants and many more spectators.

The Youth Shooting Games will be on Aug. 3-4, with the AIM Grand Championships taking place on Aug. 4-6. This year’s AIM Championships will include registered Doubles and Handicap Events and a High All Around Award. The Youth Shooting Games will again allow young shooters access to the entire WSRC facility and includes additional games, shooting contests and informational seminars on Saturday and Sunday.

The Blue Grey Shoot Out will again be included in the Grand program.

DNR opened the WSRC in 2006 on more than 1,000 acres of gently rolling reclaimed strip mine property. The state-of-the-art shooting complex includes camping, fishing and facilities fit for receptions and meetings.

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