Bears are a part of life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but for one family business, bears are a way of life. Oswald’s Bear Ranch offers a walkabout for visitors to get up close to these huge animals.
Baby bears like fruit loops, who knew? Oswald’s uses the cereal as a treat to get squirmy bear cubs to stand still for pictures.
Only the cubs have direct human interaction, the rest of the bears wander in their habitats, coming to the fence only when visitors tempt them with apples.
Dean Oswald started the ranch.
“I got my first bear in 1984, at that time you could buy a cub bear, so I bought him. They’re kinda like children, you got one, then you got two, then you got three, then you got four, so I got five. I had so many people coming from the area bringing their cousins, aunts uncles, whatever it is to see the bears, I thought well, in 1997 I should put up a gate and let them pay for the food. It turned into a business.”
Dean now has 27 bears in five habitats on his property. The business is run almost entirely by family members. The only outsiders are a couple of neighbors.
When he first said he wanted a bear his wife, Jewel, wasn’t so thrilled,“I thought he was crazy! But he’s always had a passion for bears.”
So after Dean retired from the fire department, the family moved up north.
“Within about six months he had a bear and another and another,” she said.”So you go with the flow.”
The bears that live at Oswald’s are mostly rescued cubs.
They find a new home in Newberry after logging accidents or other disasters leave them with no where else to go.
“I got 27 bears here, 26 out of the 27 I bottle fed,” Dean Oswald said. “They’re from logging accidents, car accidents, mother’s been killed, poachers, for different reasons I’ll get the cub bears, the DNR will bring them here to me. It’s a rescue, I rescued all the bears here.”
Bottle feeding all those cubs can get a little messy, Jewel Oswald said they had a little mishap this year, “and I have to tell you, this year, when we had the little ones in the house, they were a little more mature than the ones that we’ve normally gotten. So my husband made a playpen. We left one morning, went into town to do our errands come back home and they’d gotten out! You wouldn’t believe the mess, you wouldn’t believe the mess.”
When the bears are old enough, they’re moved into one of the habitats on the property. Large swatches of land enclosed by a double layer of high chain-link fence.
Visitors can walk around the enclosures, watch the bears, and feed them apples by throwing the fruit over the fence.
Monte Oswald, one of Dean and Jewel Oswald’s sons spends most of his time cutting up apples, but his favorite part is talking to the people who buy them.
He said people used to go to trash dumps in the UP to see bears, now they can come to Oswald’s. “Now that people can come here and they can see the bears up close and they can feed them and interact with them and it’s a good educational experience so I think that’s the best part about it is people can learn, especially the little kids, they start building a family tradition of seeing what wildlife’s all about.”
Oswald’s gets thousands of visitors every year.
Monte Oswald said it’s a good place to visit and a better place to live.
“It’s really nice. It’s a different way of life up here,” Monte Oswald said. “If you can withstand all the bugs that try to bite you, the mosquitoes and blackflies and no-see-ems, then, ah, then you got a good life up here.”
In a place where wildlife outnumbers the people, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is helping put Newberry, On The Map.