The Ward Hills Range

The Ward Hills Range is located in west-central Lake County in the heart of the Manistee National Forest. Forest Service roads will bring you within 20 yards. Winter accessibility is by snowmobile or walk in only.

The highest hill in the Ward Hills range is Fire Tower Hill. A range is a group of mountains or hills forming a connected row or group. The Ward Hills range extends from about 2.5 miles NE of Branch, Michigan (Lake-Mason County line on US-10), and extends NE for about 7.5 miles (as wide as 4 miles) to 1 mile south of Peacock, Michigan. It is located entirely within Lake County and the Manistee National Forest.

The range was named by (or in honor of) Captain Eber B. Ward. Ward was a Vermont native who settled in Detroit. He operated a fleet of merchant ships on the Eastern Great Lakes, and owned 50,000 acres of virgin pine forested land along the Pere Marquette River, and within a 30 miles radius of Ludington. In the early 1870’s he built 2 lumber mills on Pere Marquette Lake (just south of Ludington). He built and operated a fleet of wooden ships that carried freight (and over 50 million board feet of lumber annually) from Ludington, across Lake Michigan, to Wisconsin with most of the lumber being cut from the Ward Hills Range. The lumbering era peaked in this area in 1891. You can still see the remains of the burned out pine stumps here.

This range is popular for its many snowmobile trails, and it is hunted extensively for upland game and deer. About 2 miles to the northwest are the remains of the Ward Hills Ski Area (now called the “Lodge”). The ski slopes opened in the mid to late 1950’s, and ceased operation sometime around 1970 because they could not financially compete with the larger ski operations in Michigan.

The Ward Hills Range is of glacial origin, and the mechanism for their formation is not completely understood. Over a period of thousands of years there were 4 massive glacier advances and retreats (melting). Most of Michigan was covered by continental glaciers during this time. The last glacier’s (known as the Wisconsin Glacier) advance and retreat occurred about 14,000 years ago, and left the land features we see in Michigan today.

This glacier was 1 mile thick, and it covered an area of 4 million square miles. Its fingers plowed as far south as the Ohio River. As it moved, it acted like a giant bulldozer, and plowed millions of tons of rock and earth. Its force ground many of the rocks into glacial dust–this process is called glacial weathering. The massive weight of the ice pushed the surface of Michigan downward. As the climate warmed, and the glacier melted, much of this material flowed in the “rivers” (erosion) that formed on (or under) the glaciers surface. This material is called glacial drift, and it collected in the lower portions of the melting glacier. When the glacier was completely melted, these piles of glacial drift were deposited (referred to as glacial till) upon the surface of the land resulting in piles or, hills (and other structures as well). The Ward Hills Range is one of the thicker piles of drift that was deposited in lower Michigan–in excess of 600 feet thick in some places. Most of lower Michigan is covered by 100-200 feet of drift, although, in a few places, there may be more than 1000 feet, or as little as none (most of the bare rock in the upper peninsula).

The fine sand seen in the Ward Hills Range today is one of the results. When the glacier was completely melted, and the weight of its ice was removed from the land, the land rebounded and rose (lifted upwards), adding even more height (above sea level) to these hills.

There are no boulders or large rocks in this area, as one would expect, with glacial origin, and all of the soils are very fine (sand, small amount of clay at deeper depths, with an occasional small gravel deposit). The valleys within this range will sport an occasional small lake or bog. The overstory consists of hardwoods (mainly oaks) with scattered white pines, and the understory is upland brush.

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