“If it’s anything like last time,” Hemming said, “that doesn’t sound good, and it doesn’t bode well for the river.”
The Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center is the nation’s largest National Guard training facility, spanning 148,000 acres of land and 337 square kilometers of restricted airspace.
The facility is also a local economic engine, attracting interns and staff who frequent area restaurants and sleep in local motels. More than 200 locals work full-time at the camp, which generates more than $20 million a year for the local economy, according to released National Guard figures.
And Grayling’s significant role in training US military forces is a point of pride for some residents and officials.
“Where can you see the army in action?” said Lacey Stephan III, supervisor of Grayling Township, whose jurisdiction surrounds much of the training center.
The camp and its occupants have “mostly been good neighbours,” over the years, Stephan said, contributing to local causes and funding the area fire department from May through September. As for the noise of bombing exercises and artillery training?
“You get used to it,” he says.
Residents of the area have grown accustomed to a visible and audible military presence, from planes flying overhead to occasional explosions in the woods or traffic jams caused by military convoys. Some are more tolerant of disturbance than others.
David Smith, president of the Au Sable River Property Owners Association, said he wanted to see details of the expansion plan before drawing conclusions. A priority for him: which lands are targeted for military purposes?
“If we want to have an army, we want a trained army and they have to have it somewhere,” Smith said. “I’m not one to not be in my backyard at all. But there are problems with the river, pollution and degradation.
Much of the impetus for the proposed expansion stems from the Defense Department’s new focus on electronic, cyber and space warfare, Meyers said. The expansion, he said, would make Michigan unique among US states with military training facilities, in that the state would be able to train troops in land, air, sea, space and cyber, during the four seasons.
But modern cyber warfare training requires a lot of ownership to avoid, for example, inadvertently jamming the radio signals of other groups training nearby. Thus, the proposal to use a large strip of state land.
Meyers said he couldn’t provide a map because the Army’s map file is too large to share via email, but said the proposed expansion would involve land directly adjacent to the existing training center, surrounding it on all sides.
He said military activities on the proposed expansion of state land would not involve shelling, shooting, tanks, new buildings, fencing or closing land to the public.
“It sends guys into, maybe, humvees and tents and antennas… sleeping in the woods, training in the woods,” he said, and no activity would take place next to the AuSable or Manistee rivers.
Camp Grayling would use geofencing to prevent interference with neighbours’ cyber signals,” Meyers said.
The DNR would still own and manage the land, he said, with the military contributing money for things like managing invasive species and trimming trees along trails.