On the Shores of Lake Michigan — Eagle Top, a Wild Place Tamed

An August sunset over Lake Michigan from a beach near Pentwater, MI. Photo by BF Newhall

A summer sunset over Lake Michigan not too far from Eagle Top. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Somebody owns Eagle Top. They bought it ten years ago and built a cottage on it. I didn’t think it was possible to buy, sell or own Eagle Top. I thought Eagle Top belonged to itself. But then, I was just a kid when I first plopped myself down on that particular spot on earth.

Eagle Top is nothing much. It’s just a hill. A short, sandy hill perched on Lake Michigan. Maybe not even a hill. More like a dune. A steep heap of sand held in place by the roots of oak trees and beach grass, and a steady year-round breeze off of Lake Michigan.

Ferns growing along Lake Michigan. Photo by BF Newhall

A patch of Michigan ferns. Photo by BF Newhall

Short as it is, Eagle Top is one of the tallest hills along its stretch of Lake Michigan. You get to it by way of an old Indian footpath known locally as Toad Road, which takes you to the foot of Eagle Top through a patch of ferns.

A steep, sandy path heads straight up the hill to the top. It’s a challenging climb, even if you’re in shape; the sand gives way under your weight and your foot slides back downhill with every step.

By the time my cousin Jeanie and I came along and it was our turn to find our way up Eagle Top – as our mothers, grandmother and great-grandmother had done before us — the Indians were gone (or so we were told) and so were the eagles.

But Eagle Top, the wild place, was still there with its watery breeze off the Lake, the scent of pine needles and last year’s fallen oak leaves breaking up in the sand, the rushing sound of waves falling on the beach below and oak leaves rattling overhead.

From the very top of Eagle Top, still breathless from the climb, our bare feet tucked into the warm sand, my cousin and I would stand quietly before the everlasting bigness of Lake Michigan. From where we stood – or lay sprawled on our beach towels – the Lake was something like a hundred miles across. Nothing but water, waves and sky, as far as our eyes could see.

Last year's oak leaves and pine cone on the ground near Lake Michigan. Photo by BF Newhall.

Last year’s oak leaves and a cone from a Michigan white pine. Photo by BF Newhall

It was a sacred spot. A place where the universe seemed intentional and benevolent. This day, this place, this sand and this hushing surf had been made for us. And all we had to do about it was breathe it in.

But now somebody lives on Eagle Top. Nice people, I’m pretty sure. And they probably treasure what they think of as their fabulous view. Probably there are decks on Eagle Top now. Fireplaces. A kitchen. Beds. WiFi. In the evening, glasses of wine — or pop if the nice folks are teetotalers — no doubt get sipped by people sitting in deck chairs watching the sun paint yet another of its gaudy Lake Michigan sunsets.

What Jeanie and I – and so many generations  of children and grown-ups before us, Indian and otherwise — took in at the top of Eagle Top was not what I’d call a view. It was something else. Something nameless.

And it’s gone.

Population growth, urban sprawl, real estate values – I was oblivious to these realities as a little kid. Eagle Top would always be there, I thought. I’d always be able to climb that hill and, for a moment in time, be there.

But Eagle Top isn’t there any more. Eagle Top is gone.

Jeanie and I revisited Eagle Top in 2015 and took pictures. See “Eagle Top From Afar.”

For more Michigan stories go to “She Walked Around Lake Michigan, Now I Don’t Have To” and “A Manners-Challenged Kid Who Became the Apple of His Grandma’s Eye.”  To get regular blog updates, click on the Facebook, Twitter, RSS or email icon at top of the right hand column.



  1. The One-Percenters … they must possess everything. And they can.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I’m not sure that the folks who “own” Eagle Top are One-Percenters. They built there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re super rich.

  2. Mary H. Blohm says:

    I have some wonderful memories of climbing Eagle Top, rolling, sliding, and tumbling down so fast that if you fell the wind would be knocked out of you. It happened to me a few times. My friend Rebecca, and I would sit up there for hours, waiting for the sun to set.

    The people who built the cottage are very nice. The husband is a Pastor in New York. The wife spent summers at Bass Lake when she was growing up, and her extended family have cottages on Toad Road. They have an elevator to get to their cottage.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      My memory of the side of Eagle Top facing Lake Michigan is a vast, steep expanse of exposed sand, which got very, very hot in the summer sun. Jeanie and I tried to run down the slope, but our feet would get so scorched that we’d have to stop and stand on our beach towels for couple minutes to let them cool off.

  3. Jeanie says:

    I love this article, Barb. The whole Bass Lake area has changed so much from when we were kids. All things change; it’s inevitable I guess. But, Eagle Top is one place I seriously never thought would have a house located on it. I’m sure the people living there are cordial. Do you remember how difficult was to climb up there? I guess the people put in a road. I haven’t seen their road. I’ll check about the oak trees.


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