Thanks to Detroit News for this:
The National Guard is pursuing a major expansion in Northern Michigan for its Camp Grayling training facility, aiming to nearly double its footprint through a new lease agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
National Guard officials said they need the additional 162,000 acres to train for new, evolving threats such as space and cyber warfare. But some nearby residents worry the expansion will mean Michiganian’s lose access to woods and water in the guard’s larger zone.
“Vast tracts of state land, which is a big, big reason why I live here, (will be sometimes) closed to our use, and I don’t like that,” said Andy Partlo, a Grayling resident who manages the Old Au Sable Fly Shop in the Crawford County city. “I don’t like our public resources being shut down to our access. So to double the size of that is going to double the amount of closures.”
The DNR will host a Wednesday public meeting about the proposal.
Camp Grayling was founded in 1913 on land that lumber baron Rasmus Hanson granted to the state for military training, according to the Grayling Visitor’s Bureau.
The camp currently spans roughly 148,000 acres in Crawford, Kalkaska and Otsego counties. Most of that area is open to the public for recreation except the camp’s main post in Grayling Township.
Camp Grayling is one of the largest employers in Crawford County, the bureau said, providing more than 200 full-time jobs to local residents. The bureau said the camp generates more than $20 million annually in local economic impact.
Camp Grayling already is the largest National Guard training facility in the United States. Within its large footprint are 337 square kilometers of restricted airspace, areas for weapons training and an Army airfield with two 5,000-foot runways.
A map of the proposed expansion area shows the proposal would expand the National Guard’s footprint into more of Kalkaska, Missaukee, Crawford and Otsego counties.
Camp Grayling Garrison Commander Col. Scott Meyers said new training could include testing GPS systems, practicing drone defense tactics and learning to camouflage from space.
“We’re asking the DNR in the state of Michigan if we can expand our use and train in some of those areas that we haven’t trained in in the past, to give us that more realistic, scalable ability to really have our troops train,” he said.
How expansion would be used
Training for electronic warfare requires soldiers to stay a safe distance from live fire training, Meyers said. The expansion territory would be used for low-impact training, he said. If there is gunfire practice, soldiers would use blanks for ammunition, although there may be an exception for a firing zone proposed in the southwest part of the expansion area.
If a civilian were to encounter a guard member participating in a training exercise outside of the main post, it likely would look like a soldier is camping overnight in the woods, Meyers said, perhaps with small vehicles and antenna arrays.
The National Guard would use geofencing to prevent their training activities from jamming civilian communication networks.
“Last thing we want to do is affect cellphone usage, or emergency systems or anything of the like,” Meyers said. “We would have the capability of jamming or affecting our systems without interfering with the public’s.”
The National Guard started leasing DNR land for Camp Grayling in 1935, 22 years after the camp was founded, according to a DNR notice about the proposed expansion.
A Camp Grayling expansion would not change how the DNR manages the forest, said Tom Barnes, unit manager for the department’s forest resources division Gaylord office. The DNR would continue to own the expanded National Guard territory if the proposal is approved.
“We’re charged with ensuring our forest resources are healthy and that they’re managed sustainably so they’re here forever,” Barnes said. “That’s our main charge. We manage it to ensure that future generations will be able to have the same experience we see today with the mature woods.”
If approved, the land included in the expanded Camp Grayling footprint will remain open for hunting, camping, fishing, recreational vehicle use and other recreation activities.
No military training will occur during firearm deer season, which runs from Nov. 15-20.
The guard will not install permanent fencing and will not conduct training activities within 1,500 feet of rivers, the department said in an online frequently asked questions page.
Sometimes, the guard closes public access to its leased land when it has safety concerns about its training. It posts notifications of its weekly activities, including closures online, on the radio and on social media. It will continue notifying the public of activities and closures on expanded property if the proposal is approved.
The National Guard reimburses the DNR for property taxes on land it leases for military use, Barnes said, which saves the department money. He does not know how much the guard provides annually. The military also helps secure federal funding for conservation projects in the area, he said.
Who approves expansion?
DNR Director Dan Eichinger will decide on the National Guard’s proposed expansion, which would involve a 20-year lease agreement between the DNR and state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Barnes said. Eichenger’s approval would then kick off a series of environmental reviews and lease negotiations.
“If it was approved in the near future, I wouldn’t think that anything would be in place to, say, have boots on the ground before 2023,” Barnes said. “Not only is there the vetting process, it’s putting in the lease language, coming to agreement on what we’re going to include in the lease language on what they can and cannot do.”
There’s going to be several steps in the process once we get that conditional support or conditional approval, if that happens.”
If approved, the lease would be reviewed annually, Barnes said. The department could modify it if there were problems or void it if the military’s use of the area is not consistent with the lease. The guard would have to get DNR approval to make any major changes to vegetation in the area.
Some Grayling residents, including Janice Stevenson, who owns Carlisle Canoe Livery in Grayling, appreciate the National Guard’s presence in the area. She said she is indifferent about the proposed expansion.
Stevenson’s business benefits from the military’s presence because it brings her customers. Large groups visit the livery because they want to enjoy the river while they are training, she said.
“The military has served Grayling very well by being here,” she said. “Everyone in town that has a business is affected by having them here in a positive way. It’s a major income, having these people come from out of state, from out of the country, and visit Grayling while they’re working here.”
How residents are reacting
Pam Engel, who frequents Hartwick Pines State Park in Crawford County, said she is open to the National Guard’s plan to expand although she hasn’t read the proposal. The National Guard has been present in the area for longer than current residents and visitors have, she said, citing Camp Grayling’s founding more than a century ago.
“I personally do not have an issue with it,” Engel said. “I mean, if that’s what it takes to get training, then that’s what it takes.”
The expansion plan also has opponents, some of whom said the current proposal is too vague for them to understand what the true impact of an expanded military footprint would mean.
“We are concerned, but at this point we are on a fact-finding mission to find out what the land really is going to be used for,” said David Boberg, president of the Upper Manistee River Association. “What are the ecological effects on the land and river systems? What are the effects on river users, homeowners in the area, other people who recreate on that land, snowmobiling, ORV (driving), hunting?”
The river association is more than 40 years old. It raises money for conservation activities in the Upper Manistee River. Its members include property owners, anglers, paddlers and others who are interested in river conservation.
The proposed expanded territory would bring military activities adjacent to a long swath of the Upper Manistee. Camp Grayling does not currently operate near the Upper Manistee itself, though it is near some of the river’s tributaries, Boberg said.
“My group’s focus right now is to work closely with the DNR and National Guard to try to get more detail on how the land’s going to be used and what the long-term effects could be,” he said.
Neil Wallace, chair of the Au Sable North Branch Area Association and board member of Anglers of the Au Sable, voiced similar concerns. He said the guard’s proposal said the military will maintain a 1,500-foot buffer around rivers and lakes in the new territory, but he said that may not be enough to protect the area’s waterways.
“One of the reasons for a buffer like that is we don’t always know what effect their activities will have on the river,” Wallace said. “All of the Au Sable and the Manistee are also fed by tributaries and so if chemicals get into that river, they could have adverse effects on the fish, and the insects that they feed on.”
Wallace also said he is concerned the Guard’s promise of quiet activities in its expanded zone will eventually turn into a practice of using the new land for kinetic training, or more disruptive activities like dropping bombs and driving tanks.
“When these kinetic activities are going on, it feels like you’re under siege,” he said. “We certainly don’t want any of that activity coming in and closer to a highly populated area.”
The DNR will host a public meeting about the proposed expansion at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Community Rooms A and B at Kirtland Community College in Grayling. The department will talk about the proposal and attendees will have an opportunity to submit comments.
Written comments also are accepted on the DNR’s online map of the proposed expanded area through July 8.
Wallace said his main request is for more information about the proposed expansion.
“We understand the need to have a strong military for the military to do training,” he said. “But if we’re going to make a sacrifice for that, we really need to understand the scope and magnitude of that sacrifice.”