|Posted on Mon, Jun. 18, 2007|
Akron Beacon Journal
Playground uses big-boy toys
1,500-acre plot in northeast corner of Portage County is home to Hummers, hunting, guns
Beacon Journal staff writer
Ron Gregg, behind the wheel of a canary yellow Hummer, turns down a non-descript dirt road deep in the northeast corner of Portage County.
There is no sign, just a well-worn yellow metal fence pulled to the side and a half-dirt, half-gravel road heading into the bushes and trees. Across the street, there's a similar fence.
Both lead to a sportsman's paradise -- about 1,500 acres of off-road trails, streams, lakes, a campground and a large, open-air shooting range.
Property owner Dale Soinski and Gregg, who manages the land, have turned the former sand quarry into a giant playground for adults and their grown-up toys, whether they be Hummers, Argos, ATVs, sniper rifles or the .50-caliber M2 Heavy Barrel machine gun that Soinski has mounted on top of his former military-owned Hummer.
``It's a raw diamond,'' Gregg says, standing on top of a 40-foot hill that overlooks the shooting range.
Marketing the property
After years of building trails, fighting court battles over the shooting range and extending utilities far into some areas, Soinski and Gregg are now trying to better market the property -- called the Southington Hunt Club -- and attract more sportsmen for special outings and corporate events.
The shooting range already is used for training by police departments and Integrated Tactical Training Systems, a company run by University Heights police Sgt. James Holden that trains both law enforcement and civilians. And a gun manufacturer from Geauga County comes to test its weapons there.
Amazed by the variety of off-road conditions -- steep hills, deep streams, sand and mud -- Central Hummer East in Beachwood also has been holding its ``Hummer Happenings'' there for years. During the events, Hummer owners descend on the property and learn how to drive their expensive status symbols up and down hills, through streams and mud, and around sand dunes.
``That piece of property has everything,'' dealership sales manager John Pituch said.
Soinski, 59, a commercial roofing contractor and builder, bought the property in 1997. It's so expansive, it stretches across two counties, Portage and Trumbull.
``I've always bought all the land I could get. Bought and sold. Bought and sold,'' Soinski said during a recent visit to the the 100-yard shooting range. There's also a 350-yard range. ``I had a dream of getting over 1,000 acres. That was my goal.
``I can work in the city, but if I don't have to be next to somebody, I don't want to be next to somebody.''
Man behind the land
Soinski, a Hiram resident whom his friends describe as eccentric, is building an energy-efficient house on the property, too. The home is being built into the ground, bunker-style, with a 40-foot lighthouse on top. It overlooks a man-made 40-acre lake stocked with fish.
Why a lighthouse?
``It's a nice marriage between the house and the lake,'' Soinski said.
Besides being an avid hunter, Soinski, whose skin is tanned from years working outside as a contractor, is a gun enthusiast and collector of all types of all-terrain vehicles. (He owns a former military armored personnel carrier used in the Vietnam War.)
Guns are a special passion.
He's not sure how many weapons he has.
``That's classified,'' Gregg said, laughing.
When Soinski bought the property, it had been targeted as a possible landfill. It also had been the site of illegal dumping for years.
He cleaned it up, hauling out trash and developing wetlands. He also started landscaping the area with 18 miles of trails.
He's getting ready to construct a restroom and bathhouse near the campground.
As he looked over the property initially, one spot jumped out as a perfect setting for a shooting range. The backstop is an 80-foot-high quarry wall, created over the years as the former quarry business dug down into the earth. The wall is to the north -- ideal because the sun doesn't interfere with the shooters.
A pavilion with electricity was built for gatherings.
Two giant mounds of earth were landscaped on both sides to prevent ricochets.
``We tried to make the range the safest in the state,'' Soinski said.
Then there is his .50-caliber machine gun, which lets off booming noises when shot and kicks up dusts of sand as bullets hit the quarry wall. The weapon is his favorite to shoot among his collection because ``it gives you the biggest bang for the buck.''
``There was no place around here to shoot something like that safely,'' he said, pointing to the weapon.
That didn't stop neighbors in the rural area from objecting, though, for safety and noise reasons. He estimates the legal fight lasted six years before he was finally victorious.
``This is a very safe environment to shoot,'' said Holden, a police officer, certified trainer and firearms dealer.
It's also a great place to train. Need to shoot from your butt, go ahead. Need to shoot from a car, go ahead. Need to shoot from a bicycle, go ahead.
You can't do that at indoor ranges, which also frown on automatic weapons, Holden said.
``We like to do realistic training,'' he said.
Then there's the occasional car that they blow up.
The range isn't open to just anybody. People who want to shoot there must know Soinski and make arrangements in advance. As he attempts to promote the range more, he said he's more interested in attracting law enforcement officials -- the safest shooters -- and not weekend cowboys.
On a recent day, Soinski, Holden and friends set up bowling pins on the range and they neatly knocked them down with single shots.
``This is a dream,'' Soinski said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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