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Granite Shoals airport evolving into community asset

Granite Shoals Airport Advisory Committee members Jeff Kahl (left) and Robin Ruff

Granite Shoals Airport Advisory Committee members Jeff Kahl (left) and Robin Ruff discuss the improvements made to the Bob Sylvester Airport over the last year and a half. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Bob Sylvester Airport in Granite Shoals has seen significant improvements over the past year and a half thanks to the work of the Airport Advisory Committee and city backing. The committee struggled to maintain its full membership and some residents even questioned the airport’s existence in 2022, but it is now on track to becoming a valuable community asset as 2023 draws to a close.

The committee met nearly all of the goals set by its chair, Steve Zbranek, which he originally presented to the city of Granite Shoals Planning and Zoning Commission in September 2022. Among the improvements were an emergency helipad, new airport operations ordinances, installation of five plane tie-downs, security cameras, picnic tables, portable restrooms, and community events. 

All of these improvements were made through a combination of volunteer work, donations, and the committee’s $10,000 budget from the city.

The airport’s most recent success came during its Nov. 11 Meet the Pilots event, during which several airplanes and first responder vehicles gathered for a Veterans Day celebration. Airport Advisory Committee Vice Chair Robin Ruff estimated that over 200 people attended.

The Bob Sylvester Airport has a 2,000-foot runway with a public access point at 710 Forest Hills Drive. An estimated four planes are housed in private hangars, and three planes regularly use the $25-per-day public tie-downs installed by the committee. 

Granite Shoals airport
An overhead view of the Bob Sylvester Airport on Forest Hill Drive in Granite Shoals. Photo courtesy of Jeff Kahl

“What I saw here was a diamond in the rough,” Ruff told “I saw the value of this place and what we could do with it if we got the right people on the committee.”

Ruff doesn’t own a plane, but he has served on the committee for the past two years. He noted that it was challenging at times to fill out the seven seats on the committee, but its core membership was responsible for the steady progress in airport improvements over the past year.

The Granite Shoals airport was a contentious topic in 2022, with some residents questioning why it had a budget at all. Things were exacerbated when an unidentified aircraft passed through the airport in the middle of the night, raising safety and security concerns in August 2022.

“You’re always going to have opposition,” said committee member Jeff Kahl. “My general feeling is that the opposition came from folks who didn’t understand the value of the airport to the city.”

Further upgrades could lead to money-making opportunities for the city, such as leasing land for covered hangars or even selling fuel if the airport got enough traffic.

Beyond the economic gains, Kahl said the airport could serve as a community meeting space and create unique opportunities for the youth of Granite Shoals.

“I view this not just as an opportunity, not just for economic growth and development, but as an asset that can introduce kids to different topics that they’re never exposed to,” he said.

The Airport Advisory Committee plans to hold regular events in the future, such as Meet the Pilots and Young Eagles events, that would offer kids free airplane rides.