Learning Center

The Ottawa National Forest provides many learning opportunities, and as such may be seen as the ultimate 'learning center'.

Education can be gleaned from the diversity of the many lakes and streams, diverse forest, and wildlife such as the Black Bear, Whitetail Deer, Eagles, Loons, Grey Wolf, Ruffled Grouse, and wild turkey inhabit the Forest.

We offer educational tours to the Ottawa Visitor Center and JW Toumey Nursery.  We also have Camp Nesbit that provides groups with an excellent opportunity for conservation education.  To learn more contact the Ottawa National Forest Office.

Virtual Learning

Backpack Program 1st - 6th grade

Cover of the Backpack Program teacher version.The backpack program is a focus of earth awareness activities as well as celebrating 50 years of conservation education with Woodsy Owl! This program is an integrative workbook of activities that may be done from a classroom setting or while learning at home.  It is a way to connect students with the outdoors while we are unable to teach in person classes due to COVID-19.  

Click below to download or view the Backpack Program on your personal device.  

Student Version | Teacher Version

Take Smokey Home Program K-2nd Grade

Cover of the Take Smokey Home ProgramTake Smokey Home is a fire education and prevention program that can be done either at school or at home. It is meant to help foster respect and an understand of the responsibility that comes with utilizing fire. It is also a way to connect students with Smokey Bear and fire education while we are unable to teach in person programs.

Download or view the Take Smokey Home Program on your personal device. 

Nature and Science

spotted knapweedFrom endangered species to invasive species the National Forests abound with plant and animal life.  For instance, did you know the way to count a tree ring is to count only the darker circles?  Or that the smaller the rings, the less a tree grew that year? Did you know that the Kirtland's warbler only nests in Jack Pine?   To find out more about what's available right here in Michigan visit the Nature Viewing section of the website or the Outdoor Learning section to find out what programs and displays are available across the forest.

The Ottawa National Forest is host to a myriad of terrestrial and aquatic resources whose management has often been in conflict. As managers of 1 million acres our efforts are to integrate divergent views such as those associated with the management of fire, roads, and vegetation for improved management and conservation of native fish, wildlife, and plant species. Forest management relies on science to support informed management decisions and centers on creating and maintaining healthy ecosystems and communities.

More information about connecting with nature is available on any of these websites:

History and Culture

Photo:  Visitor Center DisplayThe Ottawa purchase unit was approved by the National Forest Reservation Commission in 1928. Today the Ottawa National Forest has five separate district offices located at Iron River, Kenton, Ontonagon and Watersmeet with the Forest Supervisor's office and Bessemer Ranger District office located in Ironwood. The J.W. Toumey Nursery and the Ottawa Visitor Center, also part of the Ottawa are both located in Watersmeet, MI.

After the purchase unit was approved, acquisition progressed favorably and on January 27, 1931 the purchase unit was proclaimed the Ottawa National Forest by the President. The gross area of the original forest was 253,551.07 acres. The first extension consisted of 465,007.64 acres and was approved in September, 1933. The aggregate gross area of the forest was then 718,558.71 acres. The Gogebic purchase unit was approved on January 21, 1935, and consisted of 1,026,329.43 acres. This unit was added to the Ottawa National Forest by Presidential proclamation on January 11, 1937. The total gross area of the forest is now approximately 1.5 million acres.

The administration of the Ottawa National Forest is vested in the Supervisor and Rangers. The original unit consisted of one Ranger district in Kenton. It was first administered under the immediate supervision of the Supervisor of the three Upper Michigan National Forests, who had his headquarters in Munising.

The Ironwood office was established February 28, 1935 and the Ottawa National Forest has since been administered as a separate unit.

In February, 1935, the Iron River Ranger District was created and on March 1, 1935 the Watersmeet Ranger District was established. In the spring of 1935 the Wakefield, Ontonagon, Bergland and Marenisco Ranger Districts were authorized.

The Wakefield district headquarters was transferred to Bessemer in May, 1937. The Bessemer and Marenisco Ranger districts were consolidated on July 6, 1937 and are now administered as one district out of the Ironwood office.

Today the Ottawa National Forest has five separate district offices located at Iron River, Kenton, Ontonagon and Watersmeet with the Forest Supervisor's office and Bessemer Ranger District office located in Ironwood. The J.W. Toumey Nursery and the Ottawa Visitor Center, also part of the Ottawa are both located in Watersmeet, MI.

Outdoor Safety and Ethics

Leave No Trace logo.  Black circle with a green swirl, white text: Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics.As a visitor to our National Forests and Grasslands, you will find many opportunities to enjoy and explore nature's creations. Our sites not only include the mighty timberlands, but  hills, lakes,  and the wildlife that inhabit the lands. These areas create great passageways for America's highways, byways, and backroads leading to great recreation activities. However, because of the large territories that are covered by forest, many unforeseen dangers present unpredictable challenges for our visitors to have a safe visit.

We want you and all who follow you to enjoy the beauty of our streams, lakes, wooded forest and wildlife. The forest is for everyone.  And to ensure that it remains so, the Forest Service invites you to look over the provided information on Safety and Ethics.

Just for Kids

The Ottawa National Forest's conservation education program is designed to help people of all ages understand and appreciate our natural resources. Education is one of the first steps to awareness of our environment and enables people to realize how natural resources and ecosystems affect each other, and how resources can be used wisely.

There are many ways in which you can become involved in conservation education. This can be through school programs, visitor center programs, educational videos, internet sites and volunteering. Please check out the information below to see what is available. Forest service employees will come to your school, meeting, group or organization for presentations if you are located nearby as scheduling permits.

Here are some very informative and beneficial websites for additional Conservation & Educational information

Miscellaneous Conservation Links

Parents and Teachers



Ottawa Visitor Center

Photo:  Visitor Center Display

Start your visit to the Forest with a trip to the Ottawa Visitor Center, here you will find recreation information, maps, and much more.

J.W. Toumey Nursery

Seed Operations

The mission of J.W. Toumey Nursery is to demonstrate the highest standards of forest nursery management through the production of high quality bare root and container stock.


Camp Nesbit

Camp Nesbit Cabins

The Nesbit Lake Organization Camp (Camp Nesbit) was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938 on the shore of Nesbit Lake in northwest Iron County, Michigan.