By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.
The township, which has a population of around 3,000, is the site of the Electric Forest Festival, which draws tens of thousands of festival goers every year. In its fifth year in 2015, township officials said the festival drew 34,000 general admission tickets in 2014.
Electric Forest takes place at the Double JJ Ranch, which also hosted a similar gigantic music and arts celebration, Rothbury Festival in 2008 and 2009.
The festival in late June embraces music, art and individuality – reminiscent of Woodstock.
Electric Forest yields economic benefits for the small community, such as road repairs; revenue to local businesses; and donations to local food banks and school band programs. It also creates traffic and noise issues, drug arrests and medical emergencies.
Many surrounding residents receive free tickets from festival promoters in exchange for tolerating obvious increases in traffic and noise associated with a festival of its magnitude.
“Money doesn’t make evil right, so I’m voting against it,” said township treasurer Joanne Heck.
“The majority are friendly, pleasant and polite people,” said township trustee Joan Brooks, who voted “yes.”
“The general consensus is that it’s OK, but there are people it offends. I’m going to show respect for the people it does offend, so I’m swinging the bat for the little guy and I’m voting against it,” said township trustee Jim Aebig.
“I’m definitely in favor of the festival,” said township clerk/treasurer Bill Wagner, who has served on the board for 43 years. “The financial resources it brings is a benefit to us.”
Township Supervisor Roger Schmidt cast the final “yes” vote.
Local resident Mark Ferris requested that the festival’s music cease at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m. “It might give the public a break on the noise pollution,” he said. The board voted to continue with the 3 a.m. ending time in its motion to approve the mass gathering permit.
“I live on the east side of Lake 16, and I don’t get free tickets, and I can hear noise” said Sue Christensen. “But, I would like to thank the Electric Forest Festival. My daughter’s band (Montague High School Band) gets compensated.” Christensen said that the mass exodus of traffic the final night of the festival, Sunday night, causes her difficulties during her drive to work Monday. However, she is in favor of the festival for the good it does for the band program and for her church with food donations.
Wally Wojack, who has worked at the Double JJ for over 60 years, said the Electric Festival was the vision of the ranch’s original owner back in 1934 when it first opened – “bringing young people together to enjoy the beauty of Rothbury.”
Double JJ owner Norm Halbower, who recently purchased the ranch with his son Matthew, said plans are in the works to add another festival to the yearly schedule. After the meeting, Halbower said he is trying to get a country and western festival lined up that will feature some of the “best acts in the country.”
The festival is set for June 25-28, 2015, and the owners and promoters recently agreed to a 10-year contract to keep the festival at its current venue. It’s up to the Grant Township Board members if they want to approve the mass gathering permit every year.