The Bear Lake Township Master Plan was adopted on September 16, 2014.
A sneak peek from the Introduction to the Lakes to Land Community Master Plan…
The earliest inhabitants of the area now encompassed by Bear Lake Township were the Odawa, who left a remarkable number of artifacts behind. A great battle may have taken place near “Brown town,” where farmers reported clearing their fields and discovering large numbers of arrowheads and even tomahawks. A silver crucifix found in the area and dated 1664 indicates early contact with Jesuit missionaries, perhaps even the 17th century explorer Father Jacques Marquette.
The first non-Native settlers included Russell Smith, Simeon Anderson, and brothers George and David Hopkins in 1863. By 1865, at least 25 families were homesteading around Bear Lake. A post office was opened on April 27, with Jerome Hulbert as first postmaster. Bear Lake Township was formed later that year, including the area that would later become Pleasanton Township. The Hopkins brothers platted Bear Lake Village in 1874, developing the village from just four original buildings. It was incorporated in 1893.
The brothers initially built a brick manufacturing plant, but by 1870 they were established lumbermen. John S. Carpenter and Eliphlate Harrington built a boarding house and gristmill for grinding grain into flour. The Bear Lake Tram Railway began operating in 1876, offering greatly expedited shipping of timber products and sparking a boom in regional growth. When the Bear Lake and Eastern Railroad replaced horse-drawn carts with locomotives in 1882, the gateway to the rich markets of Milwaukee and Chicago were thrown open.
But by the turn of the century, nearly all of the local timber had been harvested and the largest mills and the railway were dismantled. Some early settlers simply packed up and left, as when George Hopkins moved his substantial operations to untouched territories in Florida. New industry sprang up on the freshly-cleared ground, and by the 1930s Bear Lake Township produced admirable quantities of blueberries, apples, and cherries. In the 1970s, oil and natural gas exploration yielded another new resource. Numerous extraction operations have contributed steadily to the township’s economic viability in the decades since then.
Tourism has grown steadily over the last hundred years. Far from the denuded forests of a century ago, Bear Lake Township is abundantly green, thanks to adjacent borders with the Pére Marquette State Forest and Manistee National Forest. Thousands of visitors wander through the wooded paths every year, while the inviting shores of Bear Lake have welcomed resorters for generations.