Touring Grinning Bear

The legacy of Treetops Resort’s founder lives on in a woodsy Gaylord-area cabin-for-rent // Photography by Jeff Garland // Styled by Birch Design Associates
Grinning Bear Lodge has been lovingly restored by the original owners’ family. It’s now available to rent.

When Harry Melling decided to build a hotel, and what are today recognized as some of the most beautiful golf courses in northern Michigan, he stayed in a home that was close to the course. That was the early 1980s, and after renovating the home and enjoying it with his family until the late 1990s, Melling purchased a house on a lake nearby.

Meanwhile, Treetops Resort (formerly tiny Sylvan Knob) came to life with gor-geous golf holes (now 81!) and ski hills that stretch up and down the rolling Gaylord terrain. In some areas, you can stand and look out over the tops of trees to the vast beauty of the Pigeon River valley beyond (thus the inspiration for the name, Treetops).

Today Melling’s daughter, Michelle McShane, and siblings Mark and Matt, as well as thousands upon thousands of vacationers, still enjoy the stamp Melling made on this treasured area.

The old home the clan once stayed in while their dad, who died in 1999, devel-oped Treetops still stands, and it’s been renovated once again — this time as a vacation rental. The overhaul began in 2019 and was completed in 2020.

If you’re looking for a quiet, quintessential northern Michigan retreat surrounded by super tall hardwoods, plenty of big sky, and challenging golf and ski opportunities, this is the place. In fact, says Treetops General Manager Barry Owens (the resort rents the property), “it’s adjacent to a ski slope, so you can ski in and ski out to and from the property. You can literally go outside, walk a short distance, strap on your board or skis, and head to the slopes.”

Owens says those who rent the cottage get the best of two worlds. “You’re not far from the resort, but it’s your own private cottage in the woods,” he says. “Secondly, it’s a neat, older home, and the Melling family has done a wonderful job bringing it up to today’s standards, making it very comfortable.”

The great room, kitchen, lower-level game room, and fire pit area welcome guests with plenty of space and great views.

“It wasn’t in the best of shape when we started working on it,” McShane says of the home, which was built in the mid-1960s. “It was like, ‘Are we going to keep it or bring it back to life?’ It’s such a beautiful setting and has such good bones and a lot of history for our family, so we said we’ll keep it.” The family decided to name the cottage Grinning Bear Lodge.

McShane, who lives in Commerce Township and oversaw the renovations, says the name comes from the fact that, sure, while there are bears in beautiful Otsego County, the “grinning” adjective is key. “It reminds me of my dad. He was quiet, not a man of many words. But he would grin. He would find humor in things, quietly.”

Visitors will find a touch of “grinning bear” on the shutters, which feature bear silhouette cut-outs.

The multilevel cabin can sleep about 20. “We wanted it to be practical and comfortable for ski families and golf groups,” McShane says. That comfort is the result of an eclectic combination of furnishings and accents, including a small nod to the Mid-century Modern aesthetic “because of when it was originally built,” she says. “We also tried to keep some of the character, like the cedar ceilings in parts of the house.”

When it came to color, she chose teals and blues to complement the wood. “It has an Up North, woodsy feel,” she says. “I wanted something brighter and fresher than, say, hunter green, which blends in with the outdoors.” New plumbing, new air conditioners for the bedrooms, renovated bathrooms, a new kitchen, plus a lot of painting went into the makeover.

“The exterior design has a bit of the Alpine look of downtown Gaylord, which is known as the Alpine village,” McShane says. Outdoors in the back area, along an expansive tree line, she says an inviting fire pit is a top attraction. “It made sense to create a spot that people can enjoy outside. We’re all about bonfires and s’more-making. I knew we needed to have the bonfire area.”

McShane found a craftsman near Gaylord who custom-made several Adirondack chairs for the fire pit area. The backs of the chairs are shaped like the state of Michigan. “And now I hear they’ve ordered 60 for the resort and added the Treetops logo,” McShane says.

Just inside, in the lower level, there’s a foosball table, card area, and bar. “We call it the game room,” McShane says. “There’s a fireplace in that room, too.”

Thinking of her father and his remarkable impact on the area, McShane says he’d be thrilled that they were able to keep the cabin, renovate it, and rent it out so others can enjoy the amazing surrounds. “Our 4-year-old granddaughter will come this winter and she’ll learn to ski here. Dad would be happy.”


Book Grinning Bear Lodge through Treetops Resort, 989-732-6711. Check regularly for information on upcoming fall events and specials.

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