The Department of Natural Resources may sell off nearly 2,800 acres of the AuSable State Forest along
Interstate 75 near Grayling for an industrial park and commercial development. If approved, it would be the
largest known sale of public land for private use in state history.
Grayling area city, township, and business leaders asked the state to make more land available for industry
because the city is surrounded by public land and is unable to expand. (More than 70% of Crawford County's
land is owned by the state or federal government.)
Under the proposal, the DNR would sell off portions of the 2,800-acre block to business applicants over a
period of time, perhaps as long as 30 years. About one-third of the acreage would form buffer strips between the
development and I-75, residential areas, and recreational trails.
Conservationists' concerns with the proposal include:
•The state could set a dangerous precedent by selling off such a large block of public land for industrial use.
•Nearly 100 acres of the parcel are habitat for the Kirtland's warbler, an endangered songbird.
•The sale could add to the sprawl that has marred Grayling's landscape over the last decade.
•Grayling officials could do more to redevelop their downtown and old U.S.-27 commercial districts for a
thriving business and retail economy, and build the city's appeal to tourists and urban refugees by better
promoting its surrounding forests, clean air, vast open spaces, abundant wildlife, and the legendary AuSable River.
DNR Land Sales Have Fueled Sprawl
Grayling's present sprawl was aided, in part, by the DNR. Since the 1970s the agency has sold or traded
about 1,500 acres of land in the region for developments that include a 250-acre industrial park and city sewer
lagoon, a Weyerhaeuser wood products plant, AJD Forest Products, Fox Run Golf Course, Grayling Country
Club, Skyline Ski Club, Fick's 4 Mile Truck Stop, L.C. Redi-Mix, and a proposed Total Petroleum plant.
Donald Inman, former deputy director of the DNR, stopped land transfers to Grayling about four years ago
because they were contributing to sprawl. The DNR said additional transfers of public land for private
development would not resume until local officials came up with a plan to define where Grayling's growth
The city and Grayling Township then hired Mark Wyckoff of the Planning and Zoning Center in Lansing
to help write a land use plan. The officials asked for options on redeveloping inside the city limits, and
identified the block of AuSable Forest for potential industrial development.
Mr. Wyckoff's findings included:
•There are commercial areas in the city and adjacent to it along old U.S.-27 that can be redeveloped. There is
little room near the city for further industrial development.
•The AuSable land is four miles south of Grayling. The DNR would have to have firm commitments from
developers before selling parcels. The city would have to make a solid commitment to extend water and sewer
lines and roads.
•Senior citizens historically have made up a large percentage of Crawford County's growth, and they come
because of its rural, natural character -- something the community could promote more.
"They've been vacationing there forever," Mr. Wyckoff said. "They love the small town character, the river
Try "Smart Growth"
Conservationists say the Grayling area's vast public land holdings are a valuable asset, which could be
promoted more to attract visitors and new residents before adding more industrialism to the mix.
In fact, the state demographer's office said the trend of senior citizen population growth in the 1970s and
1980s in Crawford County is reversing. Since 1990, the population under 65 there has been growing faster,
with a 13.1% growth rate compared to 12.7% for those 65 and older.
DNR staff say they are giving the city-township proposal serious consideration because it could provide
for more orderly growth in an area already fragmented by development.
Conservationists say the state first needs to embrace an overall policy similar to Maryland's Smart Growth
initiative, which requires counties, not just a city and township, to fully debate where growth should go and
what kind it should be. The proposal in Grayling, for example, will not preclude other local governments in
Crawford County from making similar requests for public land. They call for a full public debate and a real
commitment to reducing and preventing sprawl statewide before setting such a huge precedent.
A decision on the proposal could be made as early as January.
Diane Conners is a former environmental reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
To comment on the proposed sale contact Gerald Thiede, chief of the Office of Field and Investigative Studies,
Department of Natural Resources, Forest Management Division, P.O. Box 30452, Lansing, MI 48909.