September 16, 2019

Nature park provides outdoor fun in the county’s backyard


WEST BRANCH — Celebrating their one-year anniversary as caretakers of the Ogemaw Nature Park, Jim and Patti McCain said the 12 months have gone wonderfully.

With nearly 10,000 visitors May 2008 through the end of October 2008, and close to 1,100 last month, the McCain’s are looking forward to seeing how many visitors the summer months bring this year.

“It’s exciting to have the people and the kids come in,” Patti said. “The excitement in the kids when they for the first time reach their hand through the fence and that deer licks their hand or gets the corn — just the look on their face and their reaction.”

Ogemaw Nature Park’s main attraction is a large fenced area housing deer, including 14 mature deer and two fawns this year. Visitors can feed the deer corn provided at the park for a donation, and are invited to stay as long as they want.

“We have picnic tables for those who want to have lunch here and spend a longer time,” Jim said.

Patti said they’re impressed with how many people do just that.

“That way they can stay here longer with the economy being so bad,” Patti said. “This makes it a lot easier and it’s a friendly environment for the family as well.”

Ogemaw Nature Park has been around since the 1920s, with deer wandering onto the property to be fed corn by hand from the man who lived on the property at that time.

“There’s a bell just outside the house here, and eventually he started ringing the bell and deer would come in,” Jim said. “Well, people traveling down the road happened to notice the deer being fed, so they started stopping. So, he started putting small buckets of corn out there and just asked people to leave a donation for the corn. That’s how this park started.”

For some time, the park was managed by the state and then was given to the county. And last year, the McCain’s were told of an opening at the park for caretakers. While formerly of southern Michigan, but living in Kentucky at the time, they decided to apply for the job to come back to their home state.

Jim filled out the application, and the couple was asked to come in for an interview last March. In April, the McCain’s were interviewed for a second time, and were hired.

“I’d been retired for almost three years, and it was boring,” Jim said. “I wasn’t doing anything, just sitting around the house, and this is really a blessing because it keeps me busy. Plus, I find the people in this area are very friendly.”

While Jim enjoys having something to do now during his retirement, Patti’s enjoyment of the park has a deeper meaning. In 1999, she had brain surgery, and was given just six weeks to live. Ten years later, she said apparently her work is not done.

“I am super excited about everything I can do (because of that) experience,” she said. “Because life can be taken from you so quickly, and sometimes you take it for granted until you experience something that could take you that quick.”

Since last year, the park has had a lot of changes, with the installation of playground equipment that was donated from the Ogemaw County Fairgrounds, a remodeled concession stand that has souvenirs and edible goodies for sale, and planned updated for the hall on the grounds that seats approximately 200 people.

But the park can only be updated, and maintained, be-cause of donations. And while families are struggling financially in these tough economic times, donations have been dwindling.

“What’s difficult is the price of corn has gone up tremendously, and not only that, but vet bills,” Patti said. “The vet bills are expensive, and that’s another part of the hardship when it comes to caring for the animals.”

The McCain’s said they always welcome donations of any kind for the park.

“If people come in and want to donate money or a lawnmower they no longer have use for or anything like that, we would take and cherish,” Jim said.

Fundraisers are planned throughout the year to raise money for the park, including an antique car and craft show June 27, and an ongoing raffle for five $50 cash prizes. The drawing will be Sept. 1. Tickets cost $1 apiece or $5 for six.

Patti said the park’s volunteer public relations director, Heather Crouch, organizes all of the fundraising events.

“She works diligently to look for all new aspects of fundraisers, anything to help in way of the park,” Patti said. “She helps us through everything.”

And through everything, Patti and Jim agree it’s just wonderful being able to work so closely with the deer, watching their behavior and seeing changes in their appearance as time goes on. Currently, the bucks’ racks are coming out in velvet, and are growing about an inch per week.

“Just being around the deer soothes my life,” Jim said. “Just being amongst animals that you know roam the wilderness, is just great to watch them — their movements, the way they treat one another and play.”

Beginning Memorial Day each year, the park is open seven days per week. The hours are Monday through Thursday, noon to 7 p.m.; Friday, noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. After Labor Day, the park is only open on weekends until possibly November, then it closes down to visitors for the winter.

Anyone who wishes to donate to the park can do so by making a check out to Ten Lakes Sportsman’s Club, and send it to Ogemaw Nature Park, 5626 W. Rose City Road, West Branch, MI 48661.


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