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Governor approves veterans cemetery in Northern Michigan

Camp Grayling
Mike Krebs
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Michigan Army National Guard soldiers stand in formation during the Michigan National Guard Memorial and Pass in Review at Camp Grayling in Grayling in 2020.

Michigan’s first state-owned veterans cemetery is coming up-north.

A bill that will both allocate funding and give the state permission to purchase land in either Crawford or Presque Isle counties was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week.

Her signature marks the end of a two-year legislative effort that started with a group of residents in Crawford County.

“We’re over the moon excited about it,” said Crawford County Commissioner Carey Jansen. “Especially since this is the third time that Michigan has tried to get a state-operated veterans cemetery ... It’s been a long time coming.”

The “Veterans Cemetery Act” was first introduced by former senator Curt Vanderwall. The Republican’s term expired at the end of the year. It passed the Senate unanimously in July and got final approval from the Legislature in its closing session last month.

“Those who have served in our Armed Forces deserve access to a final resting place near their families that will allow them to be formally honored for their service — and a veterans cemetery centrally located in northern Michigan will make this possible for more men and women who have answered the call of duty in our nation’s military,” said VanderWall in a press release this month.

While two federal cemeteries are located near Holly and Battle Creek, Michigan does not have any state-owned veterans cemeteries.

State and federally-operated cemeteries carry the added benefit of free burial services for military families. Jansen said that could save families up to $3,000 in burial costs.

Under the "Veterans Cemetery Act," the goal is to have veterans cemeteries that are no farther than 150 miles apart.

Many residents of northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula exceed that distance.

Local veteran Wayne Koppa previously told the Record-Eagle the project could also save northern Michigan military families money in travel costs.

“All of us think it's an honor in your final stop to end up with fellow military members,” Koppa said. “This is an earned benefit for the veterans in northern Michigan that just hasn’t been pursued.”

Jansen said Crawford County’s centralized location off I-75 makes it ideal for the project. Camp Grayling, the largest national guard training facility in the country is also located there.

According to data from the 2020 Census, veterans make up 6.8 percent of Michigan’s population, more than 500,000 people.

Funding for the cemetery project was previously set aside in House Bill 5783, now Public Act 166 of 2022. The fiscal year 2023 omnibus budget included $1.5 million from the state’s general fund — to be reimbursed by the federal government — to initiate the project.

The full project is anticipated to cost between $10 and $15 million to plan and construct and will be funded with federal dollars.

Jansen said the process could take four more years but she’s excited to get started.

With the new year, Adam Hollier took up his position as new director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. Former director Zaneta Adams stepped down at the end of the year to pursue opportunities outside of state government.

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