Ogemaw Hills Pathway is located in the hills north of West Branch at the comer of Fairview and Clear Lake Roads. The trails wind through over 13 miles of the AuSable State Forest providing groomed cross country trails for all skill levels.
To thoroughly enjoy this area you should understand the dynamic forces that were at work shaping our landscape thousands of years ago.
As you drive along the 1-75 Business Loop into West Branch or travel Fairview Road, notice the well defined ridge of hills to the north referred to by geologists as the 'West Branch Moraine'. The morainic system' arcs southwest towards and through Clare County and continues southward before being terminated by the Maple River in lonia County.
About 16,000 years ago the 'Saginaw Lobe', part of a larger retreating glacial front thousands of feet thick, formed these recessional moraines along with others during the course of an interval that may have taken several hundred years.
The moraines also generally mark the border of glacial Lake Saginaw which formed in front of the melting ice lobe and retreated back into present day Saginaw Bay. This is an area of flat terrain from West Branch to Flint commonly referred to as the 'Saginaw Valley'.
Glacial terrain is just one aspect that defines the pathway. Man's impact past and present is very much in evidence. In 1903, with thousands of acres of abandoned cutover and burned over stumplands, the Michigan state forest system was born with the establishment of a 'forest reserve' on 34,000 acres of land that came to be known as the Higgins Lake and Houghton Lake State Forests.
The Ogemaw State Forest, the state's fifth of 53 separate reserves, was administrated in 1914, embracing some 4,160 acres. The appointment of a 'forest custodian', Grover Zettle of West Branch, was made on April 23rd. A location for headquarters was selected in the forest off Dow Road (2 miles southwest of the pathway) with quarters established in tents until housing was completed in June. A tree served as a temporary lookout until a fifty foot steel tower was completed in September of that year.
Many pioneer farms were on poor sandy soil (glacial outwash) that could not support themselves and eventually abandoned, reverting to state ownership for non-payment of taxes. With the hardships of the Great Depression, some two million acres of land reverted back to the state in 1939. The clearing you enter as you ski or hike are old farm fields slowly being reclaimed by forest. Old fence lines, orchards, rock piles, lilacs and foundations long since abandoned can be found.
By 1971 the Ogemaw State Forest comprised 80,470 acres. In 1978 the various state forests were consolidated into six large District forests. The Ogemaw became part of the AuSable State Forest comprising 728,000 acres.