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Weed-friendly campground planned for northern Michigan halted by zoning issues



A Northern Michigan township might puff, puff, pass on a rustic, cannabis-friendly campground that was slated to open this month.

Debi Bair purchased 20 acres near Wellston in Norman Township with the intent of developing Camp Happy Trees, a campground where weed smokers could unite while “nestled amongst towering pine trees near the magnificent Manistee National Forest,” as the camp's Facebook describes.

However, Norman Township's Zoning and Planning office issued a stop-work order last month, forcing Bair to halt camp operations as well as cancel a "glow party" event that had been previously scheduled. The order claims that the camp, as is, poses “an immediate threat to the health, safety, and general welfare of the community,” due to the fact that there as are “no known sanitary or potable water facilities on-site.”

Bair told Big Rapids Pioneer that Camp Happy Trees would issue shower passes so that campers could utilize those services at near-by campgrounds that have showers.

It's with a heavy heart I'm forced to share this with you. The glow party is cancelled per order of Norman Township.

Posted by Camp Happy Trees on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

According to The News Advocate, Bair would have to get approval from the township's planning commission before moving forward on booking happy campers. Zoning officials said their offices had been closed for three months due to coronavirus and, upon learning of Bair's campground proposal and progress, caught her up to speed on zoning ordinance information and steps that would need to be taken in order to get the commercial campground up and running.

Steps include presenting the proposal to the planning commission and holding a public hearing, which would inform those who live 300 feet from the property of Camp Happy Trees's intent and business plan, allowing residents to learn more about the camp, as well as address concerns and questions. Bair would also need a campground operating license, which is issued by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

In an email with The News Advocate, Norman Township Zoning Administrator Ben Townsend cited a previous campground application that had taken three months to clear paperwork and two public hearings.

“With 420 allowed, there’s only two KOA’s in the state of Michigan that allow 420 usage and they want you to stay in your tent or in your camper,” Bair told the Big Rapids Pioneer. “You can’t walk around freely. I’m somebody that’s camped a lot. … Smoking in tents is not a good idea, it’s very dangerous.”

Bair says she wants to celebrate marijuana as medication and, by doing so, alleviate some of the social stigma she feels that weed-smokers frequently face.

“I don’t want the shame with it," Bair says. "This is medication, it’s legal, and I want people to be able to not feel awkward or weird. I want them to be safe.”

According to Camp Happy Trees' Facebook, Bair is working with her attorney to review the township's demands. And in a more recent post, she states that she is searching for new property to potentially establish the campground.

“There's a 99% chance of a change in business plans,” she writes. “I'll figure this out. Stay safe, stay tuned, stay lifted.”

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