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Michigan has a bounty of beautiful lakes, and those found in Antrim County are no exception. Lake Bellaire is situated to the east of Lake Michigan; this 1,793-acre all-sports lake provides plenty of opportunity for swimming, boating, kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, and fishing. Surrounding the lake area is a variety of accommodations for the casual weekend traveler as well as the hardy outdoorsy vacationer. Luxurious resorts are located not far from quaint bed and breakfasts, rustic inns, modern condo villages, and well-equipped campgrounds. With so many choices, including lakeside cabins for rent, private vacation homes, and large chain hotels, travelers will enjoy the challenge of choosing just the right vacation rental for their holiday stay.
Lake Bellaire, which was known as Grass Lake until the 1950s, is a natural freshwater lake in the northwestern section of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Its irregular shape contributes to its lengthy shoreline, which is roughly 11.5 miles in total; the lake is shaped rather like an elongated "S" design, with the lower half of the lake widening significantly. Water flows generally north to south in the lake. Several streams feed Lake Bellaire, as do Cedar River and Intermediate Lake. Its primary outlet is from the southeast corner of the lake into the Grass River, which eventually flows into Clam Lake. Clam Lake is a ribbon lake that runs southeast to northwest and works as a conduit to transfer water from Lake Bellaire to the much larger Torch Lake.
Lake Bellaire is one of 14 lakes and rivers in the Elk River Watershed Chain of Lakes, which is a very important natural resource for the area of Lower Michigan. The two other lakes in this section of the chain are Clam Lake, which starts to the southeast of Lake Bellaire, and Torch Lake, which is a very long and large lake that sits farther west of Lake Bellaire and is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. These three lakes make up a 500-square-mile watershed. A chain of lakes indicates that several adjacent lakes are connected via streams and rivers in such a way that boaters can often travel throughout the entire chain by watercraft. Many travelers choose lakes that are part of a chain as their favorite vacation destination for just such a reason: Beautiful scenery, pristine waters, scattered views of local wildlife, and other relaxing experiences are bound to make a boat trip through a chain of lakes one to remember.
The town of Bellaire is located to the northeast of the lake, and it's the county seat of Antrim County. The Intermediate River outlet meets Cedar River in the town of Bellaire. It's in this town that the Bellaire Dam was built in 1902. Its original purpose was for power generation, but in the 1950s the dam was decommissioned and currently does not serve as a power source. Its main use today is for water level control; in recent years the official water level has been set at 610 feet. This influences Lake Bellaire's water level because the dam is just upriver from where the lake's inlet begins, and the water from Intermediate and Cedar Rivers is the major source of the water input into the lake. The Bellaire Dam is the only structure standing in the way of the Elk River Chain of Lakes being navigable by small watercraft from one end of the chain to the other.
Lake Bellaire, with an average depth of 43 feet and a maximum depth of 95 feet,, has been called "Fisherman's Paradise" for its excellent fishing waters. Brown trout, lake trout, muskie, splake, perch, northern pike, crappie, walleye, rock bass, and smallmouth bass are all on the hook in this lake, and observers will likely see fishing enthusiasts trying their luck from the shore and by boat. Visitors are often surprised at just how clear the lake's waters are, and often the sandy bottom can be seen. Two public boat launches are available on Lake Bellaire for those with watercraft.
Lake Bellaire is approximately 4.5 miles at its maximum length and 1.3 miles at its widest. The excellent water quality in this mesotrophic (moderately fertile) lake, as well as the surrounding lakes, is due in no small to the vigilance of the area residents, who treasure inland lakes for the great natural resources they are. The local lake preservation organization, called the Three Lakes Association (TLA), focuses its efforts on Lake Bellaire, Clam Lake, and Torch Lake. The nonprofit association has been helping to protect and improve water quality for these lakes since 1966. This three-lake chain is part of the larger Chain of Lakes in Michigan, which contains 14 lakes total and spans roughly 75 miles in length. The Elk River Chain of Lakes contributes 60 percent of Grand Traverse Bay's input water and contains nearly 35 percent of all of Michigan's inland water.
The Grass River Natural Area (GRNA), founded in 1969, is located near Lake Bellaire, and features 1,443 protected acres of diverse natural habitats. More than 400 species of plants, 60 species of reptiles, fish, and amphibians, and 65 species of birds are in residence here, with upland forests, marshes, rivers, swamps, creeks, and fields serving as their chosen homes. A famous attraction in the state, it features more than 7.5 miles of well-maintained trails for guided tours or self-guided exploration. Classes are available for young and old, and the center is open year round for summer hikes or winter skiing. Walks are organized around the flora and fauna--from bluebird viewing to mushroom identification, from wildflower hikes to wildlife watches. The GRNA is an incredible resource for outdoor educational opportunities, and it's just plain fun.
The village of Bellaire, with a population of about 1,164 residents, is to the north and northeast of the lake, while Forest Home Township contains both the village of Bellaire and Lake Bellaire itself. The village of Bellaire's economy depends directly on vacationers and travelers, with millions of dollars every year brought in by recreation and tourism. Therefore, every effort is being made to keep the area's natural resources clean, beautiful, and attractive. Several other enticing lakes surround Lake Bellaire, including Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, and Thayer Lake, all to the southwest; Lake of the Woods and Green Lake to the southeast; Intermediate Lake to the north; and Birch Lake to the west. The fun and fast pace of Traverse City is only a 45-minute drive away to the southwest, and Mackinac Island is a pleasant two-and-a-half-hour day trip to the northeast. Lewiston is just over an hour away to the east. Lake Bellaire is really a centrally located spot from which to launch a fun-filled Michigan vacation.
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