By MIKE NORTON
I’m loving this weather! Best time of year ever!
Last week I took a drive out to Shanty Creek Resorts over in Bellaire, in the heart of the Chain of Lakes country of Antrim County, just east and north of Traverse City. It was a work trip, but I’m always glad for a reason to roam around that place.
Like the country around Grand Traverse Bay where I live, this beautiful area was carved by a powerful glacier that moved through this part of the world a mere 10,000 years ago. (Pretty recently by geological standards; there were already people here. Wonder what they thought about having a mile-high wall of ice in the backyard.) When it melted it left the same characteristic landscape of steep hills and long, twisting valleys.
Looping back and forth through this landscape is a 75-mile waterway: 14 connecting lakes that lead all the way from the high drumlins above Ellsworth to the sandy shore of Grand Traverse Bay. Several of the larger ones, like Torch Lake and Elk Lake, are considered among the most beautiful in the world, and the region has long been a favorite destination for boaters and fishermen.
Because it’s farther inland and higher up than the coast, the Chain of Lakes area has a more rugged feel to it. Fall comes earlier, spring comes later, and in winter there’s usually lots more snow. Around these parts, people wait eagerly for two events: the opening day of deer season, and the day when the snow gets deep enough for snowmobiling.
Smack in the middle of all this watery bounty is the village of Bellaire, a quiet river town best known for its proximity to the sprawling ski and golf complexes at Shanty Creek and Hawk’s Eye. Nestled in rolling hills along a gentle clear river, Bellaire is a classic “Mayberry-style” small town with clean streets and a tidy, thriving downtown where many of the businesses are brightly painted in Caribbean colors.
Thanks to the nearby resorts and a sizable population of retirees, it has remained economically healthy without pricing itself beyond the reach of middle-class vacationers.
Besides, it has one of my favorite watering-holes: Short’s Brewing Co. where the region’s microbrew scene has really taken off.
Actually, it was that glacier that drew me to the area last week. I’d been hearing about the new Glacial Hills Pathway, a 20-mile hiking and biking trail that’s being constructed on a 763-acre parcel just west of the village, near the north end of Lake Bellaire. I was able to walk several miles of the trail, and it’s beautiful – lots of narrow switchbacks up the sides of steep hills in a hardwood forest that’s filled with ferns and dappled with sunlight.
In this part of the world, for some reason, we’re always combining strenuous outdoor adventures with the consumption of premium-grade alcoholic beverages. Short’s is very much involved in the development of the new trail, for instance, and over here in Traverse City we have events like the popular Suds & Snow rally in March, where we blend snowshoeing and microbrews. A similar event, coming up this weekend, is the 11th Annual Harvest Stompede Vineyard Run & Walk sponsored by the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula.
The event begins at 9 a.m. Saturday with a race through the Ciccone Vineyard, where runners (or walkers) follow a course laid out between rows of fruit-heavy grapevines (there are options for a 5K walk, 5K run, or 7-mile run depending on your skill level).
After the race is over, all 20 wineries on the peninsula open their doors to ticketholders for food and wine pairings all weekend.
It’s a really popular event, and routinely sells out — advance tickets are required. Tickets are $40 and include special food and wine pairings at each tasting room. They are available online at www.lpwines.com. All ticket holders receive a commemorative event wine glass as well.
My advice, acquired over long and difficult years of experience? Do the running before you do the eating & drinking. Seems like a no-brainer, but I’m a very slow learner.