National Guard considers buying Marquette County land for training

The Michigan National Guard is exploring a possible expansion into Marquette County to help improve training for Upper Peninsula Guard members.

The Guard met with county officials, the Department of Natural Resources, private companies and other various agencies on Thursday to learn more about their options in identifying land compatible with both training needs and the local environment. The primary impetus behind the expansion is to help increase Guard units’ readiness by providing an adequate training area closer than the current one at Camp Grayling.

“When you’re given money for fuel and time, and time is one of our most precious resources in the National Guard, trying to get everything in that we’re required to do with such little amount of time and the dollars we’re given, (what) you don’t want to do is spend all your time on the road, and you don’t want to burn up all your fuel budget just getting to a place like Grayling in an eight hour convoy, that kind of thing,” said Brigadier Gen. Mike Stone, Assistant Adjutant General for Installations for the Michigan National Guard. “Each of the local armories in the Upper Peninsula’s got their own local training sites that they go to with the local community, but they’re really not conducive for the type of training to support those units, so we’ve been looking since last fall across the Upper Peninsula for 5 to 10,000 acres that could support those units. Seven of those eight armories are really Marquette and west, so geographically it makes sense that acreage, if we find it for training, be somewhere in the Marquette area or west.”

Marquette County is considered an ideal location for the expansion because seven of the eight U.P. armories are located either within the county or west of it. The Guard is narrowing down areas for a potential land use deal by ruling out parcels on state parks, land protected by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and land covered by any other restrictions.

“We want to avoid any land use restrictions or any conflict with land use restrictions that’s inconsistent with National Guard training on it,” Brig. Gen. Stone added. “What we’re hopeful to do here by midsummer is identify a contiguous parcel of 5 (to) 10,000 acres that doesn’t have the restrictions, and then we’ll start the staffing process, which the DNR has checklists, there are Federal checklists. In the National Guard Bureau we have to go through environmental studies, archaeological studies, endangered species, that type of thing. The great news is down in Camp Grayling where we do this with about 40,000 plus acres, the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon, we can sometimes bring resources and federal dollars to help protect species, such as the Kirkland Warbler and the Michigan rattler (rattlesnake). We have a program starting with some PhD’s that’s funded by the Pentagon to help with endangered species. We may be able to help with some of the forestry management if we do work on a land usage agreement with a local community.”

Preliminary plans for a land deal to expand Camp Grayling caused concern from some groups. The Guard is adamant that it will run through the required checklists of environmental studies and when in doubt, it will not train in an area that poses any risk to the environment.