Hanson Hills has a rich history of activity and controversy. Opened in 1929, it was the first downhill ski area in Michigan and the second to open in the Midwest. The "Snow trains" brought many people to Grayling where they would board flat bed trucks for the ride to what was then called the "Grayling Winter Sports Park". The Michigan Snow Queens were crowned and honored at the annual Winter Carnival, famous for the elaborate ice sculptures built by local people. The old toboggan run was an attraction that thrilled many. Another exciting attraction was the 66 ft. ski jump that was built in 1934.
Hanson Hills was willed to the State of Michigan by Rasmus Hanson for military or recreational use and is still controlled by the State of Michigan's Military Board. It was during the time when the area was called "Bear Mountain" that great growth was seen and the ski resort had 22 slopes for downhill skiing, the "Polyhedron" hotel, the "Little Smokey Railroad", and the "Fred Bear Museum" were all a big part of the excitement at what we now know as "Hanson Hills Recreation Area and Winter Sports Park". When the heirs to the Hanson Estate found private individuals making money on the property they attempted to take the land back. Their reason for the action was that the lease stipulated that the land was to be used only on a non-profit basis. The Bear Mountain Area was ordered "boarded up" in 1973 by Judge Roth. The hotel and lifts were disassembled and sold, the Fred Bear Museum, Little Smokey Railroad, the Pine Knoll Campground, the House of Flavors Ice Cream Store, and Dillons' horseback riding stables all closed also.
Volunteers came forward that winter to try to keep a few hills open for children to downhill ski. It was soon after this that Grayling Recreation Authority was established as a result of a lot of volunteer work. With the cooperation of the Michigan National Guard and the State Military Board, a special law was made to allow the "Authority" to work on a non-profit basis. The Grayling Recreation Authority (GRA) is a government "consortium", made up of representatives from Grayling Township, Crawford County, the Crawford AuSable Schools and three members at large.
In the beginning, the main goal of GRA was to maintain and run the ski operation. Now GRA has added to it's priorities year round sports programs for Youth and Adults. Year round, quality recreational activities are supported by 1/2 mil of taxes and user fees. GRA keeps prices at a minimum so as to be accessible for as many participants as possible.
For more information about Hanson Hills or to plan a visit please call 989-348-9266 or write to Grayling Recreation Authority, PO Box 361, Grayling, MI 49738.
Story by Capt. Douglas Halleaux
126th Public Affairs Operations Center
Tucked away deep in the woods of Grayling’s Hanson Hills, atop Mount Franklin among the winter snows and summer leaves lie two of the most mysterious, silent secrets of venerable Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center. Two names belonging to faces long-forgotten sit etched into cold granite blocks, the final testament to two of the Michigan National Guard’s own who, like their modern counterparts, came to this post to serve.
Pfc. John A. Conroy of Company D and Pvt. George A. Laine of Company A, both of Michigan’s storied 125th Infantry Regiment, lie alone beneath haunting stone outlines. Visitors today will hear the rifle and mortar echoes from far below as Conroy and Laine’s regimental descendants train about the guidon these two men once rallied toward.
Though their names lie in stone, their stories are known by few, even among today’s infantrymen.
Command Sgt. Maj. Harold “Tike” Golnick, Camp Grayling’s post sergeant major from 1985-1990, was responsible for the caretaking of the miniature cemetery.
“Someone told me it was the smallest military cemetery in the United States,” said Golnick. “They were forgotten for awhile, we started taking care of it again.”
A Detroiter at the end of his life, Conroy was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1902. His death, from pneumonia on the Ides of August 1927, was the second Soldier death in Grayling that year, though he was the first in the camp’s young history to be interred there.
So soon after the camp’s founding was his death that the post’s marquee body of water was still called Portage Lake, before its name reflected the memory of Margrethe Hanson, wife of Grayling lumber magnate and Camp Grayling patriarch Rasmus Hanson.
Laine, Conroy’s battle buddy of the last 75 years, a Gwynn native displaced to Detroit, became the second, and last, resident of Camp Grayling Cemetery when a drowning accident claimed his life in nearby Frog Lake July 14, 1939. Less than two months before Germany's invasion of Poland launched World War II and a little longer than a year before the 125th would be called to active service, Laine would not accompany his fellow Soldiers to battle.
Unfortunately, little else is known about these soldiers. The graves were left for decades, all but forgotten and neglected.
“In the late '50s - a captain, he was on a [training mission] up there and found it, and they started taking care of it,” recalled Golnick.
The care and maintenance of the site continues, still, few of Camp Grayling’s patrons know of its existence.
“It’s kind of a lost secret, really,” added Golnick.
According to records obtained by the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, new headstones were purchased for both graves in 1958, followed by a service on Memorial Day that same year. The cemetery is not a national cemetery and does not accept additional interments.