Fate of deer herd in question at Michigan nature park – Detroit Free Press

The fate of 14 whitetail deer and possible closure of a wildlife sanctuary in a county Up North has residents and former visitors upset.

The Ogemaw Nature Park, a nonprofit petting zoo and campground just north of West Branch that features the small deer herd, is losing money and is no longer properly licensed, Ogemaw County said.

The park sits on about 40 acres  owned by the state, which according to the 1959 deed must be used “solely for public purposes.”

A motion dealing with the fate of the park is expected to come before the county Board of Commissioners  at its meeting   Feb. 23. It had been discussed at the committee of the whole meeting Thursday.

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“Losing the deer park is losing a piece of recreation in Ogemaw County. It’s definitely a step in the wrong direction. It’s certainly not intentional. It’s strictly financial,” said Peter Hennard, the chairman of the County Board of Commissioners. “In Ogemaw County, we don’t have 24-hour police patrol by the Sheriff’s Department anymore. Things are so tight that we have to look closely at the services that people need.”

He said the rumor was that if the park closed, the deer would be euthanized. He didn’t know who owned the deer.

According to the officials, the other county park, a campground for RVs, has been covering the costs of the deer park, but that can no longer happen because of a reduced fund balance. Expenses for the deer park for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, are $19,735, including snowplowing, bags of feed and utilities for the home on the property, where the caretaker lives for free in exchange for working. The deer park’s estimated revenue for the year is $5,000.

The deer park doesn’t charge admission.

In August and in November, county residents voted against a Headlee Amendment restoration, which would have  returned the tax rate from 6.1035 mills to 7.2 mills, Hennard explained, adding that taxable property in the county once totaled $1 billion, but is now just more than $800 million. Proposed cuts include staff, appropriations and service, like soil conservation funding and an undercover drug unit.

“Now, here we are four months later, and we’re still working on implementing those cuts. The nature park has not been cut yet,” he added.

The park’s U.S. Department of Agriculture license wasn’t renewed, because the sportsman who handled it died, Hennard said.

USDA officials could not be reached for comment.

Ed Golder, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said it’s up to the park’s owners to decide what to do with the deer.

“Based on the license type at this facility, the Nature Park would have the option to sell or move the deer to other facilities, provided they are up to date on disease testing. They could also, if they chose, euthanize the animals,” Golder said.

The deer park’s caretaker, Aaron Brookshire, and his wife, Brianna, are trying to drum up support for the park on Facebook and with a GoFundMe campaign. As of Friday afternoon, the campaign had raised $2,300 of its $6,000 goal.

Brookshire said the park, which  opened in 1940, recently had been opening only on weekends. But he was told to shut it down after a USDA inspector showed up.

If the deer park would to close permanently, “we would very disappointed. When we got hired into this position, they told us they want someone who was very, very committed to this. They were hoping to have me run it for next five to six years,” Brookshire said. “They weren’t anticipating closing it down.”

Visitors to the park are upset by the news and are commenting on the park’s Facebook page about their disappointment. Some suggested ways to raise funds.

Jon Ottman, 45, of Clay Township, owns two cabins in the county and grew up spending time there. He had hoped introducing his 9-month-old son to the deer park and said he would  be willing to pay a modest entrance fee.

“It was a huge thing I was looking forward to, bringing my son there and enjoy it as an adult and revisiting those really fond memories of my childhood through him and share that with him,” he said. “It’s a destination for people when they come up there and it’s a destination for people there, too… It’s something that’s valuable.”

Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or zmeyer@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @ZlatiMeyer

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