CAPE ELIZABETH — When Mark Mayone approached Tammy Walter about succeeding him as president of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, he made one request: Don’t say no right away.
“So I thought about it, talked to my husband and kids, and they were like, ‘Mom, you have to do it,'” said Walter, who was elected unanimously on Feb. 6. “Because they know me, and I’ve always been interested in service work.”
Walter, 54, has spent much of the past two decades volunteering at yoga festivals, and with organizations including the Trauma Intervention Program.
Taking the reins of a gun club in the midst of the most turbulent phase in its 60-year history, however, will pose a different challenge.
A native of Scarborough, Walter studied criminal justice at Southern Maine Community College. She worked for two years as a secretary in the Cape Elizabeth Police Department before becoming an insurance underwriter. When she married and moved to Cape Elizabeth 18 years ago, she dedicated herself to raising her children, service work, and her hobby as a fine arts photographer.
Two years ago, after trespassers burglarized her property, she bought a gun, took a few classes, and joined the Spurwink club.
When Mayone decided last year he wanted to step down as president to spend more time with his family and focus his energy more narrowly on a handful of gun club projects, he took to heart the words of the previous president, the late John Kenny, who stressed the importance of new blood for the club’s survival.
“It just made sense to me to have Tammy, because she was a new club member, so you have that vibrancy that comes with a new membership,” Mayone said. “You match that with someone who’s highly intelligent, forceful in belief, who’s compassionate and really cares about the club, and it’s a win-win.”
Now Walter, the first woman president in club history, must navigate the long-running dispute between Spurwink and its neighbors in the Cross Hill subdivision, whose complaints about safety and noise have resulted in a shooting range ordinance that is under review by the Town Council.
“I want us to all be in harmony together,” Walter said. “I know that sounds like a Coke commercial, but that’s what I truly want. And because I just came here, because this is new to me, I’m going to believe we’re going to find a way. I welcome their emails. Talk with me. Get together with Mark and I. Come to the club.”
Mayone, who remains heavily involved in the club’s leadership, is less diplomatic when it comes to the nearby housing development, which began in the 1990s.
“We’ve had neighbors and other people say to us, ‘This isn’t a good fit anymore. Cape Elizabeth has changed.’ Which it has,” Mayone said. “Our nearest neighbor, when we first started here, was over a mile away. We’ve always been here. If it’s not a good fit, then that’s their problem.”
Whether the two sides ever call a cease-fire may be beside the point. What matters now is the ordinance, which has been resisted by the club, not for any restrictions it would place on shooting – say, range hours, or the types of firearms allowed – but for purely financial reasons.
The ordinance calls for an extensive site plan and other engineering work that, the club fears, could total tens of thousands of dollars and bury it in costs.
The draft ordinance allows exceptions in the event that its enforcement results in hardship, but it will be difficult to know how, exactly, the town will interpret and apply that language until the club applies for an ordinance-mandated license – another contentious point among members, since the club was issued a license with no expiration more than 50 years ago.
According to Walter and Mayone, the club’s biggest concern about the potential costs of the ordinance – and with court fees, should it come to that – is that they will delay long-term plans for safety and noise renovations that could help quell the concerns that led to the ordinance in the first place.
“We are a small club and our resources are very limited,” Walter said of the 301-member organization, which raises about $10,000 a year through dues, raffles and dinners. “… We would accept any donations, corporate or private, to help move this along. Cabella’s, are you listening out there? Last year, we donated to the Bruce Roberts (Toy) Fund, to the University of Maine camp at Bryant Pond. I would love to do more of that community work, but we have to put our funds into our ‘no blue sky’ goal.”
“No blue sky” is part of the club’s long-term plan for an estimated $87,000 in noise and safety upgrades. Although “no blue sky” doesn’t include a roof, it serves as a sort of gold standard for outdoor range shot containment, going beyond National Rifle Association safety standards. The club recently applied for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant worth more than $20,000.
Some day, Walter said, she hopes the club can focus its energy on what it does best: giving back to the community, expanding its youth shooting team, providing members with a safe and enjoyable place to exercise their right to bear arms.
Over the years, Spurwink’s clubhouse, built in 1955, has hosted a wedding and countless Tuesday night cribbage games. A speaker series has featured coyote expert Geri Vistein and Maine politicians Jane Eberle and Chandler Woodcock. Sometimes, the members even do a little fishing; it is, after all, the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club.
Until then, ordinances and neighborhood feuds seem to be in the cards while the club tries to trudge ahead with its range improvements.
If and when they’re ever completed, Mayone said, “My hope is that the neighbors will say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe what you guys have done down here. This is amazing. It’s more than we ever would’ve expected. Can I have a membership?'”
Spurwink Rod and Gun Club President Tammy Walter aims a vintage .22 caliber Stevens pistol, circa 1935-1950, at the club’s shooting range.