My Bear Lake

Share you stories and/or history about Bear Lake.


  1. Mike Brehm says
  2. Rich Miller says

    I have been coming up to Bear Lake with my Dad (Dick Miller) since I was a little kid. I have lived in the Chicago area my entire life and Bear Lake is a great escape from the rat race. I am 43 years old now and I appreciate Bear Lake now more than ever before. It’s arguably the most beautiful lake I have ever been in. I am also grateful for businesses like Dingman’s Tavern, Shirley’s In the Woods Cafe and The Blue Buck on 72. Thank you.

  3. Bear Lake Association says


    There’s this great bar in “Up North Michigan”, that lies half way between Grayling and Kalkaska. It’s called Dingman’s Bar, and has been around for at least 60 years, maybe more. It was built (I assume) by Earl and Mabel Dingman, who held on to it until the late 70’s, mid 80’s. It went through several changes and owners over the years. There used to be a scale painting of Bear and Cub Lakes on the ceiling, with old wooden monopoly games houses, strategically placed where all the homes and cottages were on the 2 lakes. That has since been taken down and painted over.

    One thing that still remains from 1956, is the black bear head, mounted on the west wall of the bar … small, but ferocious looking enough. It was the pride and joy of The National Women’s Bear Hunters Association, founded by Mabel Dingman herself. Along side the bear head, is a picture of all these women who belonged that year. My mother, Evelyn Hixson, was a member … although not in the picture. She was also a cook at Dingman’s Bar. She told us kids about the history of that bear, a story that probably has not been passed on from owner to owner over the years. No doubt, ever one in that picture has passed on by now.

    The inaugural year of The National Women’s Bear Hunters Association, led by Mabel Dingman, had high expectations of bagging a black bear. Throughout the hunt, which coincides with deer season I believe, not even a bear track was spotted. People talked about seeing black bear around Bear Lake … but as a kid living there for 8 years, I never saw one. But Mabel was determined to show the world that women could hunt down and bag a bear … especially after the entire group had taken up a float in the yearly National Trout Festival Parade, earlier that year in April. They were even featured in the weekly television program, Michigan Outdoors. With only a couple days left of the bear hunting season, Mabel had a plan. She was not going to be denied her fame, nor the integrity of the “hunt club” of women … most of whom had never held a rifle, let alone fire one.

    Mabel’s plan involved the Traverse City Zoo. The zoo had this bear, who was literally on its last legs and breath. We were never sure what kind of deal Mabel made with the zoo, but euthanasia was already in this bear’s future. Mabel may have sped up the bear’s demise, and somehow managed to bring the carcass back to Dingman’s … string it up from a tree … and proclaim victory for a well managed hunt. Truly, a Kodak moment. My older brother, Kenny (who also tended bar at Dingman’s in the 70’s), told me about how worn down the bear’s claws were, spending most of its life in a concrete zoo. The bear was soon sent to the taxidermist, and its head mounted on the west wall. After 56+ years, it’s still there. Mabel had bagged her bear, (I believe she took credit for shooting it), and no one was any the wiser as to its origin … except for a few inside members of the Association … including the cook.

    Tim Hixson
    Uncle to Julie Varchetti, Owner, The Blue Buck On 72 & Full Circle Resorts

    • I was always told that Jean Newman took that bear, in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

      • Diane Crakes Morris says

        Hello Mr. Tuttle, our family rented from your dad and moms cabins for 25+ years , R & R cabins . We so loved bear lake and look forward to going up there every year. It was the most beautiful place the lake was so clean and clear and crisp. Our family swam, fished and skied Bear Lake and thoroughly enjoyed every summer. Our kids made summer friends that they kept in contact with for many many years. But time passes as it does and we have lost contact with a lot of those friends. Now we have grandchildren and would so like to share the experience of bear lake with them. We were wondering if there are any rental properties on bear lake four summer fun. If you see this message and know of any we would certainly love to hear from you. My cell number is 270 589 8284 . The fond memories we have a bear lake campfires, day trips to Traverse City, the cherry festival there was so many great times in that area. Your mom n dad were wonderful hard working people and enjoyed seeing them every year. My hope is that you’ll see this message and give us some information they can bring us back to beautiful Bear Lake.

  4. Bear Lake Association says

    As a young boy, I grew up on a lake. Bear Lake. We knew it as the most beautiful lake in the world. It was pretty for sure … still is. Spring fed. Crystal clear with a sandy bottom. You could see the bottom at 30 feet, easily. You could drink the water, and we did. I think I was about 5 when we moved from Detroit to Kalkaska, Michigan. That was name of the village, 15 miles from our lake. The sign said, Village Limit, when you entered the single stop light district of downtown Kalkaska. (I can see that my spell check doesn’t recognize “Kalkaska”. It’s a small town.)

    We lived 15 miles outside this small town, even more isolated from the world. The lake itself is rather small in comparison to many recreation lakes in Michigan. What made it special was how clean it was … how blue it was. How freaking cold it was! It was our lake. My family was one of a handful of year rounders. Most of the structures on or near the lake were cottages … large, small, old, new, good condition … some not so good condition. And not only was this a summertime cottage vacation destination, it was a hunting location as well in November and December. Bear, deer, pheasant … you name it. So yeah, my home was where people spent their vacations. During the summers, the lake was abuzz with boats and skiers and fisherman. People everywhere, enjoying the sun and water … free outdoor movies at Dingman’s Bar on Thursday nights, bon fires on the beach at night, skiing and more skiing. During the week, when the weekenders were gone, we would practice making pyramids on skies. I was the little guy on top … albeit a 3-man pyramid. Like I said, the lake was ours. We let the cottage people use it though. Actually, the state owns the lake … even the shoreline your property butts up against. So you can freely walk around it … I think someone once said it was a little over 5 miles to walk around it.

    We lived on Bear Lake for about 8 or 9 years. 1955 to 1964. We all slowly migrated back to Detroit and dad sold the place, regretfully. It would be worth a small fortune today. The year we moved away from Bear Lake, Gordy Howe bought the Nelson place up the road on the north end of the lake. Beautiful home. A cottage for his entire brood. Bear Lake was never the same after that. The word got out. Up until then, Bear Lake was this little unknown paradise in northern Lower Michigan. Soon after, property values skyrocketed and within a couple years, there was none available clear around the entire lake. It became quite crowded on the water too. They had to initiate traffic directions for skiers and hours designated for fishing only.

    Every year, there were 2 significant days that stood out in this young boy’s mind. On a day in April, (and we knew when it was getting near), we would get off the bus after school, walk up our driveway to a small hill crest that opened up our view to the lake. On this day, almost the same date every year, you could proclaim that all the ice was gone, melted, fini, gone once again. That lake was never bluer than on that day. We had caught glimpses of open water for the past few days prior, but it was almost like magic on this day …the ice was gone and the days of summer were not far behind. But as kids, we weren’t waiting for summer. We were in that frigid water that day … rolled up pant legs, running up and down the beach. This is what we waited for every long cold snowy northern Michigan winter. All 9 months of it! Okay…7.

    Summers were short on Bear Lake. Memorial Day to Labor Day … that’s it. 90 days to enjoy Bear Lake. (My bother Larry was into ice fishing and we all ice skated and snow skied… but in our hearts, we longed for summer constantly) Come Memorial Day, the cottage people were back … new friendships to be made … for my older brothers, new girls to meet … barefoot and free for 90 days. Good times.

    Then comes Labor Day weekend. We all know its coming like a slow approaching fog. This weekend was the final blast of summer. The lake was probably busier on Labor Day Weekend than Fourth of July. The last hurrah before the inevitable. At around about 5 O’clock on Labor Day, the most dreaded Monday of the year, the entire mood of Bear Lake changes. It’s over. Most everyone has already left and by 7, it’s dusk and its a dead silence all around the lake. A glass like calm covers the entire surface. There is only one sound … along with the slightest rippled disturbance from a boat on the other side of the lake. It’s Bill Burke, the guy in the cottage next to our house. He’s always the last to leave, trying to catch one more rainbow trout. The sound you hear is his 3 ½ horse Johnson … an antique of an engine but purred like a little kitten. I felt the same sorrow every year on Labor Day evening. A sadness that was heightened by the fact that school resumed its fall semester the next day. And it wouldn’t be long before total depression would set in, knowing what wrath winter would again bring to these parts. This was the night that our dreaming of summer began all over again, for the next 270 days. Good night.

    Tim Hixson
    Uncle to Julie Varchetti, Owner, The Blue Buck On 72 & Full Circle Resorts

  5. Bear Lake Association says

    We are the Henderson cottage and now it is the Blair/Holbel.  Our family has owned the property for nearly 100 years.  We can remember when we didn’t have crows, turkey buzzards, weeds, ducks, or seagulls.  On a clear calm day you could see the bottom of the lake anywhere.  The loons are the only hold-overs.  They had to sink brush piles for the fish to get shade.  You could see them from the shore if they were in shallow enough.  It was quite a place back then.  I already see improvements in the last year in the weeds and clarity.

    I am glad that we have a group of forward thinking knowledgeable people taking an interest in the lake.  Those of us that have been brought up there have seen the deterioration over the years and are grateful to have progress being made toward restoring it.  I think I am the longest continuous lake kid.  67 years and counting.  Keep up the good work and I would be happy to help if possible.

    Hillary Henderson Holbel

  6. Wendi Lakies-Light says

    Our family has owned the same property on the lake for nearly 100 years too! We are in Hillcrest Blvd. At one time out family owned three cottages in a row, then in the 80’s when my Great-Grandfather passed away, his cottage was sold, so we now have just the two. One is a very distinct yellow two-story that sits right on the lake. The other is green and sits up on the hill under the trees and can’t be seen easily from the lake, but it’s there with all the great memories! This is our favorite spot in the world! Beautiful, clean and home! Thanks for the web page and the info!

  7. Bear Lake Association says

    This comes from Jean Buddy on W Bear Lake Rd:

    “Randy’s sister rented a cottage on Paradise Lake up by Mackinaw City. There were so many weeds, they took the boat out after one day.

    Next year they’re going to try to kill the weeds after they raise enough money. Probably too little too late. I’m glad you’re getting this started before we have that problem.”

  8. Thank you, Hillary, for sharing that information. I’m sure there are a lot more history lessons out there so I encourage all of you to “Speak Your Mind” and continue this blog. I know there are many people who have been on the lake for over 50 years. This is a great way to share what you know about the lake and its history.

Speak Your Mind