420 Person Events -or- Pristine Natural Recreation
The Rotary-backed GOREC is currently applying to East Bay Township for permission to run a large event center in the middle of the Forest Lakes – an activity that is illegal under present zoning. Many residents are contesting the intense transformation of this natural space for events, but firmly support the recreational and educational aspects of the application.
There’s a point, however, that is getting buried in all of this – and it’s simply that the Rotary is missing a HUGE opportunity to do the right thing. This can all go one of two ways and I believe that our cherished Rotarian community leaders are missing the obvious.
Improve Lives in Our Community
The Rotary could be using its immense wealth and standing to take its message to the rooftops and proclaim that they are asking to fund and utilize the former Scout Camp as a community beacon that supports and fosters equitable access to outdoor recreation and education – responsibly sharing our lakes, offering classes, camping, trail access, and day use recreational activities. Creating a place where residents and visitors to our area can come for the day to hike, bike or ski our trails, play disc golf, kayak on the lake and participate in their other outdoor recreation and education programming.
The club’s vision statement is “To be the service organization of choice with dynamic action-oriented members whose leadership and contribution improve lives in our community”. In a time when we need it most, as we attempt to climb our way out of this pandemic, it’s hard to imagine an action they could take that would do more to improve the lives of our community.
… Or Fundamentally Change the Character of the Forest Lakes
The other way this goes is the Rotary's current approach, which is to operate behind the scenes and misuse goodwill to obtain legal permission to fundamentally change the character of the Forest Lakes Area. They and GOREC obscure this with lofty mission statements and claims to conservation and stewardship. But make no mistake – this proposal does not protect our natural resources, it in fact exploits them.
And this all might sound a little too familiar. This is the same Rotary Camps and Services group that attempted to monetize community natural resources by bringing Viking Cruise Ships into Grand Traverse Bay.
A False Premise: 420 Person Events or Close the Trails
Why do they want to commercialize our natural areas bordering the Brown Bridge Quiet Area? Why are we told this proposal is the only option? Why must one wedding be held in order to keep the trails open? The property is tax free, the land holder is a non-profit, the management partner is a non-profit, and the land and all the infrastructure is free. It does not get more advantageous than this in the business world for any organization, let alone the wealthiest Rotary in the world.
Based on the last public account, the Rotary has nearly $50 million in reserves and $500k annually in oil profits from this same property. When a charitable organization has access to that kind of capital, it's a choice. And why must that choice come at the cost of safety, peace, and the environment?
A Choice of Legacy
This is an opportunity for the Rotary to be the charitable champion of our future. In a time when they, like many other mid-level organizations are struggling to find their place, what message do they want to send? The Rotary has a storied past and our community owes it a great deal of gratitude for its leadership, vision, and generosity. But what will the legacy be from this point forward? How will the community look at a club that looked the other way while the Forest Lakes were fundamentally transformed into something our parents and grandparents wouldn’t recognize? And how will our children and their generation talk about a Rotary that not only looked the other way, but in fact, made this happen?
The Four-Way Solution
Even the best organizations make errors in judgment and in this case, it certainly appears the Rotary is having their lapse. This proposal defies their own stated Four-Way Test, and appears off course not unlike the proposed Cruise Ship operation. But it’s not too late to do the right thing.
It’s time to pull this irreversibly destructive application. It’s time to stop spending so much time and energy working against each other. It’s time for a solution that would truly pass the Rotary’s Four-Way Test with flying colors. With TRUTH and FAIRNESS, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate on a responsible solution. In the interest of GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS, we extend our hands to our Rotarian neighbors in an offer to channel our collective energies around a better path forward. We agree on so much. It’s time to sit down as present and hopefully longtime neighbors to create a solution that is compatible with our laws and the Rotary’s mission – a solution that is truly FAIR and BENEFICIAL to all concerned.