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Camp Grayling expansion proposal still undecided, opponents rehash concerns

Over 200 people from Grayling and the surrounding area gather for a public comment meeting with the Michigan National Guard and the DNR June 22 at Kirtland Community College.
Over 200 people from Grayling and the surrounding area gather for a public comment meeting with the Michigan National Guard and the DNR June 22 at Kirtland Community College.

It’s been over six months since the Michigan National Guard announced its proposal to more than double the size of Camp Grayling, a training facility in central-northern Michigan.

Meanwhile, opposition seems to keep growing.

Representatives from local government, conservation groups and frustrated citizens held a virtual media conference Thursday to voice their concerns.jim knight

For context, the additional 162,000 acres would be leased from the state's Department of Natural Resources. National Guard leadership has previously told IPR News the land would be used to expand training, specifically opening up opportunities for cyber and electronics warfare exercises.

The land would remain in DNR ownership and management. Representatives have told IPR News the land would still be open to the public.

But longstanding distrust for the guard’s activities has prompted opposition.

Amy Trotter leads Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a statewide organization of over 40,000 hunters, anglers, trappers, and conservationists. MUCC was one of the first groups to announce its opposition to the plan in June.

She said she believes there isn’t enough information available to warrant the large expansion.

“MUCC, like all of us on this call today, supports our military and its brave men and women. Those men and women have served as our members as well.” Trotter said. “They stand with us in this opposition. There needs to be balance in this process, due diligence and public transparency.”

Trotter said communication between MUCC and the Department of Natural Resources remains strong, even with a newly announced director.

The decision to move forward with the proposal now falls on incoming DNR director Shannon Lott who will replace acting director Dan Eichinger in January. Lott is currently Natural Resource Deputy.

DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder said the review process would move forward the new leadership. Lott has previously attended public comment meetings with residents over the summer.

“Director Eichinger and Deputy Lott have worked closely together for many years. They share a common vision and similar priorities for the management of Michigan's natural and cultural resources,” Golder said in a statement. “Under Deputy Lott’s leadership as acting director, we expect the work of the department to continue as it has for the past four years, with an eye toward protecting and managing those treasured resources for the benefit of future generations.”

Other outdoor organizations like the Sierra Club and Michigan Trout Unlimited have also declared opposition.

“We can't allow this massive expansion into more headwaters, wetlands, aquifers and special rivers,”Joe Hemming, President of the Anglers of the Au Sable said. “Need I remind everyone of PFAS?”

PFAS — an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is an emerging contaminant that has been linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

In 2019, a plume of PFAS chemicals was traced back to Camp Grayling — one of the first detected in Michigan. They’re often called “forever chemicals” because they hardly break down over time.

To this day, residents around Lake Margrethe still deal with the consequences.

Hemming previously told IPR the contamination event a the source for distrust in the greater-Grayling community.

Along with members of the conservation community, local governments on the township and county level have passed resolutions condemning the expansion efforts.

Bear Lake Township Trustee Jim Knight cited a dozen other township governments that have expressed opposition listed below:

  • Blue Lake, Bear Lake, Excelsior, Oliver and Orange in Kalkaska County.
  • Lovells and Beaver Creek in Crawford County.
  • Au Sable, Markey, Lake and Lyon in Roscommon County.
  • Albert Township in Montmorency County.

“Public Land is for the citizens of our state,” Knight said. “There are tens of thousands who come to these areas to recreate.”
Michigan National Guard leadership has previously stated the exercises would be low-impact and would have minimal impact on the land or residents.

“While there is no change in the status of the land access request at this time, the Michigan National Guard is continuing to listen to feedback we are receiving from community groups and stakeholders through various forums,” Michigan National Guard Spokesperson Andrew Layton said in a statement. “Should the DNR decide to move forward with the land access agreement, we are still very early in a process that would include a detailed analysis and environmental assessment of the specific areas.”

To learn more, listen to an in-depth episode of the Points North podcast about the proposed expansion to Camp Grayling.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.