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Michigan rejects Camp Grayling expansion, instead offering annual use permits

Camp Grayling sign
The Michigan DNR has rejected a proposal to lease state land to expand the footprint of Camp Grayling, instead making some 52,000 acres available for the military to seek short-term use permits. (Photo courtesy of Michigan National Guard)
  • State officials have rejected a military proposal to lease 162,000 acres of state land for military training
  • Instead, the state is offering up 52,000 acres for potential short-term, limited use use by troops training at Camp Grayling
  • Opponents to the plan say the Guard still hasn’t proven it needs more land

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has rejected a request to double the footprint of the Camp Grayling military training base, instead opting to make up to 52,000 acres of state land available for the military’s short-term use.

Officials with the Michigan Army National Guard last year requested a 20-year lease on 162,000 acres for what it called low-impact training activities in modern cyber, air and space warfare.


That enraged area residents and environmentalists, who questioned why the Guard needs more space beyond the 148,000 acres already at its disposal at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.


In a statement Friday, Acting DNR Director Shannon Lott said comments from the proposal’s opponents — which included dozens of objections from local governments, outdoors and environmental groups —  prompted the DNR’s scaled-back approach.

“We appreciate the many comments we received on this proposal and the commitment people have to public lands,” Lott said. “Public concerns and feedback from Tribal governments, coupled with our own review of the proposal, led us to decide against a 20-year lease on such a significant portion of state-managed land.”

This map depicts the existing footprint of Camp Grayling (in tan), along with the land the Michigan DNR will make available for short-term leases to the military. (Courtesy of the Michigan DNR)

Opponents of the Guard proposal said they’re still not happy. They contend that the Guard hasn’t proven that it needs more land. And they want more study into potential environmental impacts from the cyber training the Guard hopes to conduct. 

“I don't see anything in these documents that says that they've done or that there will be any environmental testing to understand the effects of this electromagnetic warfare training on the bugs and insects, and the local ecology,” said Joe Hemming, president of the outdoor conservation  group Anglers of the Au Sable.

Hemming expressed frustration that the DNR announced its decision on Friday, the eve of the annual spring trout season opener, during which thousands of anglers descend upon the Grayling area’s storied trout streams.

“The DNR’s mission is to preserve and protect the natural resources of this state,” Hemming said. “And they issue this release on a day that for any outdoors person, is pretty much a national holiday.”

DNR officials rejected the Guard’s original request after concluding that most of the land sought was either too near bodies of water, or was purchased with money that prohibits the type of activities the Guard proposed.

Instead, the DNR has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) that allows the military department to apply for limited-use permits on up to 52,000 acres scattered around the existing base.

The DMVA must apply for those permits annually, specifying periods of times and locations where troops would train. 

Col. Scott Meyers, commander of Camp Grayling, issued a written statement saying that the compromise with the DNR “provides distance and area required for some low-impact training that will help our service members stay safe and successful on a modern battlefield.”

“We respect the DNR’s decision to deny our lease request while providing a way forward to help facilitate training capability for those who wear the uniform,” Meyers said, “and we appreciate the public’s engagement over the last several months, as well as the feedback we received from Tribal governments.”

Lands within 3,000 feet of lakes and designated trout streams would be off-limits, as would protected areas and sensitive habitats. The land would remain open to the public and Tribal members at all times.

The permits would prohibit live fire and use of tanks or loudspeakers. Permanent fencing and other structures would be off-limits, as would “activity that results in significant damage to vegetation.” 

But troops would be allowed to do low-impact, cyber and electronic warfare training, and “small formation activity” involving fewer than 500 Guard members and up to 100 “affiliated partner members.”

Troops would also be banned from using any material known to contain harmful pollutants, including PFAS. PFAS-containing firefirghting foam used at the base has polluted the groundwater surrounding the camp.

In January, a district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division in Gaylord sent a strongly-worded letter to Guard officials, arguing the DNR should reject the Camp Grayling expansion until and unless the military branch gets more serious about addressing PFAS contamination at the base.

Meyers, the Camp Grayling commander, said the Guard can conduct its training on state lands while honoring Michigan’s environment.


It was not immediately clear what criteria would be used to evaluate permit requests. 

DNR Spokesperson Ed Golder said the Guard would need to pay a permit fee, which would vary depending upon the nature of the Guard’s land-use request, and would include any staff time needed to review the request.

Applications for those permits would fall under the same system used to evaluate other public events and activisies on state managed land, such as large gatherings or research projects, DNR officials said.

That Irks Hemming.

“They're not exactly a Boy Scout troop, asking to do a campout on state land,” he said.

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