Ward Hills Winter Sports Area – Branch

The Ward Hill or Ward Hills area operated from the mid 1950’s until the 1970’s. The Battle Creek Enquirer for December 30, 1956 lists Ward Hills as one of 4 new ski areas in western lower Michigan. There were several rope tows and many runs. Some were named and some were numbered. Check reminiscences at this wordpress site.

ward-hill-ski-area old-motor-house rope-tow-tower old-ward-hills

In The Cass City Chronicle for Fri., Nov. 9, 1956, in the “Michigan Mirror” column, Ward Hills near Cadillac is listed among the rapidly developing ski areas of Michigan. According to a Consumers Power brochure from 1959, Ward Hills was 6.5 mi north of Branch, midway between Ludington and Baldwin via us-10 and Co-669. They had 4 slopes (1 novice run) 1 tow, instruction, and a warming shelter with lounge serving snacks. The Cass City Chronicle printed the 1968 AAA Michigan Guide to Winter Sports Fun on Jan. 4. 1968. It listed Ward Hills, 6 1/2 mi. north of Branch between Ludington and Baldwin as having 8 lighted ski runs, trails, and rope tows. They listed both a Michigan and a Chicago phone number for the resort.

Michael Fleckenstein passed along this picture of himself skiing at Ward Hills in 1957. It seems to show a rope tow in the background and fairly open, gladed terrain.

Michael Fleckenstein Skiing at Ward Hills in 1957, courtesy of Mr. Fleckenstein

Apparently the Ward Hill Ski Area was purchased by the Chicago YMCA and added to their nearby Camp Martin Johnson, listed as being near Irons. Camp Martin Johnson was run by the Hyde Park YMCA from 1925 until 1980. They may have continued to run the tows for winter campers or other users (local school groups?) until they closed the camp in 1980 and sold the property, reportedly to Ted Nugent, the “Motor City Mad Man.” It has been sold several times since.

Charles J. Stivale, who had stayed at the camp as a youth, recounts a couple of trips back to the site of the camp in 1997 and 2001. He says, “While driving back south toward Branch, I stopped for a final photo at Ward Hills (album 8-12), where the old lodge seems to have been replaced (although possibly just renovated… who knows!), but where the lower, beginner slope still is evident. There is even a small ski house standing at the top of the slope. Driving down the road from a distance, one can clearly see the ski run which is still clear cut.” I think he might be pointing to a location on North Hamilton Rd. just north of where the road loops east, then west around a large hill before resuming its north/south direction. The topo map places this on the north facing slopes of the hill and there are a couple buildings and a cleared area at the bottom of the hill, but I don’t spot the small ski house at the top if it is still standing another 10 years later. Apparently the link to his photo album no longer works.

The area is in the Manistee National Forest and is about 15 mi. south of the Udell Hills.

Ward Hills patch

If you have any information about skiing at Ward Hills or Camp Martin Johnson, please post it or send it to us via the directions on the About MILSAP page.

13 Responses to Ward Hills Winter Sports Area – Branch

  1. Michael Fleckenstein says:

    I should mention that the cafeteria in the little lodge had the best banana cream pie I have ever had even to this day.

  2. The camp was started in 1925, not 1926. My maternal Grandfather, Martin R. Johnson, who was nephew to Martin G. Johnson(Who sold the land to the YMCA) was Caretaker at the camp from 1925-1943. My mother, Linnea, was born in the Caretaker’s house at the camp in 1940. I have started a Facebook page dedicated to the memory of the Camp. I have uploaded photos that my mother has, and am working on gathering all the photos I can find online, as well as information about the camp. Feel free to contact me for more info.

    Lowell Godfrey

    • MILSAP says:

      Thank you, Lowell. We would be glad to include a link to your Facebook page for the camp, and would like to see any pictures you have of the ski facilities.

  3. The property / lodge was owned by my family (VanderHoff’s) from I belive 1987 – 1998. We made all of the renovations to the cabin. It still belongs to the same people who purchased it from us to my knowledge. I spent every weekend and most of my summers there, my retired grandfather lived there permenently. Many fond memories.

  4. Dave Norris says:

    Just to let you know I have added you to our blogroll at Big Bass Lake and Beyond

  5. Dave Norris says:

    A lot of pictures of Camp Martin Johnson are missing from CMJ websites. They used to have a lot of pictures. And what about their pictures at Ward Hill? I’m sure that they took some. Great website here.

  6. Dave Norris says:

    I just sent Jason an email about securing pictures of Ward Hill. FYI

  7. Stephen Reese says:

    I use to live in one of the cabins on the property, until I was four. Our cabin was further up the driveway, from the ski lodge, but before the creek. My grand parents lived on the other side of the creek, in a house. They owned 300 acres, including the ski area. Grandpa (Howard Paul Reese), installed the tow ropes. Not bad, for an eighth grade education. He opened up the ski area in the mid fifties, until he sold it, around 1970. I believe, he sold the property for @ $40,000. I have a lot of the pictures he had of the time he owned the ski area. I remember being bummed, and mad that they sold the property. I loved it up there. I believe, my great grandfather (George Painter), owned the property before Grandpa Reese.

  8. Roxanna Stewart says:

    I am also very fond of my memories at Ward Hills (and Camp Martin Johnson) I skied and worked at Ward Hills from 1952 until it closed. I am still skiing today because of my early roots at Ward Hills. I also have life long friendships because of the time I spent there. I cleared the lunch tables, taught the campers how to ski, and patrolled the hills offering suggestions and first aid if necessary. I’m trying to post a 1977 photo of me and life long friend Judith from the top of hill 4.

  9. Brett Schihl says:

    This site is so cool. Robert Conant, my step dad managed Camp Martin Johson while Chicago owned, had a hand in Ward Hills, and ran the ski patrol. I fell in love with skiing there, long after Bob retired from skiing, and I have Patrolled for 17 years in the Rockies in his spirit and memories of Ward Hills. I still have his skiis and can imagine the challenge in shussing Fire Bowl.

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