Have you been to Bellaire or East Jordan lately? They’re not what they used to be.

By Al Parker and Ross Boissoneau | Aug. 25, 2018

Spotlight on Bellaire (pictured)
Seems Traverse City isn’t the only place in the region making those “Best of” lists. The Antrim County hamlet of Bellaire was recently named to the list of Best Lakeside Towns in the U.S. by Country Living Magazine, alongside the likes of Vergennes, Vermont, Greenville, Maine, and Devils Lake, North Dakota.

“We are a four-season destination. We get people out in nature,” said Rachel Krino, the assistant director of the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce. That’s certainly true. There are a host of nearby golf courses. Fall brings color to the area, visible from numerous hiking trails. Winter features a host of snow sports, while spring heralds the advent of summer with flowers and morels.

But back to that lake thing. While Bellaire itself is not actually on a lake, it is a waterfront town by virtue of the Intermediate River running through the middle of it, connecting Intermediate Lake and Lake Bellaire. They are all part of the Chain of Lakes, a dozen lakes connected by rivers and streams that culminate where Elk Lake meets Lake Michigan. “We’ve got a lake for every day of the week,” said Krino with a laugh.

And the lakes bring people in. “The area triples in size in the summer,” said Jim Richardson, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Schmidt in Bellaire and at Shanty Creek Resort. He said the area’s recreation and waterways are huge attractions for both visitors and those who choose to move to the area. “We had the best winter we’ve had in 10 years [in real estate sales], and we’re looking to do the same for summer.”

He said the rural character and small town life, combined with the area’s natural features make it attractive. Plus it is a convenient to many of the region’s other cities and their attractions. “It’s out of the way, but you can go anywhere. It’s centrally located,” said Richardson, noting from there you can get to Traverse City, Petoskey, Charlevoix, or Gaylord in an hour or less.

In fact, the area encompassing Bellaire is getting some national recognition. Shanty Creek, the sprawling 5,000 acre resort, has won accolades from the likes of Golf Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Ski Magazine and AAA.Lake Bellaire and Clam Lake were named among Michigan’s 20 Most Beautiful Lakes by Vacation Idea Dream Vacation Magazine. Surprisingly, Torch Lake didn’t make the list; instead, it was named one of Michigan’s 20 most beautiful lakes for couples.

And it is the entire area that is benefiting from and touting the recognition. “We are the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce, but we work with all the communities — Alden, Eastport, Central Lake,” said Krino. The hotels and amenities of Shanty Creek host thousands of guests each year, but a variety of other lodging — the Bellaire Inn, Stone Waters Inn, and All Seasons Motel — and attractions are drawing substantial traffic, too.

“We have eclectic shops,” said Krino. The Bellaire Smokehouse smokes meat and fish onsite, and the market also sells a selection of micro-brews, wines, cheese and dry goods. The Flying Pig offers restored and reclaimed furniture. Uniquely North features home furnishings, art, clothing and other lifestyle items. Paddles & Pedals includes gear for biking, hiking and paddling.

“We have amazing food,” she added. “Toonies Fish and Steakhouse makes everything by hand. Ruth Anne’s Bakery makes cakes, cupcakes, and cookies that are to die for. Market M-88 does French pastries and scones. There’s Torch Lake Cellars. Hello Vino is our new wine bar. Bee Well Meadery, Mammoth Distilling [ in Central Lake] and Short’s.”

Ah yes, Bellaire can hardly be mentioned without noting Short’s. Since opening in 2004, it’s become synonymous with Bellaire. “He has done so much for this town,” said Richardson of Joe Short, from supporting civic improvements to environmental causes and sponsoring recreation (see sidebar on Paddle Antrim). “I know people who drive from Leland on a regular basis.”

Krino said she emphasizes the quality of life in Bellaire, starting at home. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I try to tell my young sons how lucky we are. You can swim in the lakes, ski just down the road. They have no concept of what they’re growing up around.”—RB