Developing The Dragon
From an article posted on the MSU Extension website
By Ryan Coffey - Extension Educator, Land Use, Government & Public Policy
A massive, non-motorized hiking and biking trail being developed around the Hardy Pond in Mecosta and Newaygo counties will put west Michigan on the map when it comes to outdoor adventure destinations.
The state of Michigan boasts many notable outdoor adventure venues that cater to a variety of groups. Snowmobiling, hiking, paddle sports and ORV infrastructure is well established in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. At the same time, mountain biking, snow biking and all-weather hiking enthusiasts enjoy several remarkable, yet shorter courses scattered throughout the state. But no trails in this category can be found anywhere in the world at this scale—until now.
The Dragon trail will be a truly...
...unique adventure sports destination for people from around the state, region, nation and world.
Scott Faulkner of the Newaygo Nationals Association believes the Dragon will be a complete game-changer in positioning Newaygo and Mecosta Counties as a top choice as an outdoor adventure destination.
“We believe this will extend well beyond our region, and become an international platform helping drive economic activity along with health and wellness initiatives,” said Faulkner.
“We are in the preliminary stages of planning unique and challenging running, biking, and mixed competitions in keeping with our Mission,” he added. “These events will expand as the trail is being created over an estimated two year construction timeline.”
While “pond” often conjures up images of small, quiet, idyllic blue patches of water, Hardy Pond boasts over 50 miles of shoreline and over 4,000 acres of fresh water. The Hardy Pond enjoys a long history as a premier recreational destination for tourists and residents alike.
Now fully five years in planning, the Dragon trail will span over 47 miles along the banks of the Hardy Pond upon the majestic Muskegon River as it winds through Mecosta and Newaygo counties, crossing the massive Hardy Dam, the third largest earthen dam in the world. This project is strategically located within 45 minutes of Grand Rapids, 3 hours from Detroit and 3.5 hours driving time from downtown Chicago.
This highly collaborative and ambitious initiative involves Mecosta and Newaygo County officials (administrators, commissioners and parks officials), three township supervisors, Consumers Energy, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and West Michigan Mountain Biking Association, the Newaygo Nationals Association, both county Economic Development and Convention and Visitors Bureau offices, two Chambers of Commerce, Spectrum Health/Tamarac, Nestle Waters North America, MI Works!, Muskegon River Watershed Assembly, Michigan State University Extension and other key partners.
“I am pleased to become a part of this fantastic project and look forward to its completion,” said Newaygo County Administrator Chris Wren who was introduced to the venture last Spring when he began his tenure in White Cloud. “This project exemplifies the tremendous collaborative efforts in the region and will be a standard for other regions to follow.”
“The trail will become a great asset to the region and further complement the existing resources that already exist and are heavily utilized. I am continually amazed by the efforts of so many in the area to improve our community with these types of projects and ensure the future success of our region."
The Dragon trail is a non-motorized, multi-use, natural surface trail. It is designed as a large scale loop system, a bold and unique endeavor which will include:
Key features of the Dragon trail
The $1.2 million Dragon trail project enjoys a wide range of local and regional support, including an important pre-funding investment of $300,000 by Newaygo and Mecosta counties for the construction of the trail. This funding was committed by their respective board(s) and will serve as a catalyst for additional momentum and investment by area foundations, corporate partners, government entities and private investors.
In addition to providing an incredible attraction to biking and hiking enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, a comprehensive economic impact study conducted by Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis reveals that, as a result of this project, the west Michigan region can expect:
The Dragon is currently in its final months of development and preparing for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) application for approval to proceed. Upon approval, the build will take two years.
The Dragon team has targeted either a spring 2018 or 2019 construction start, depending on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval and funding. The team expects to open completed segments of the trail after the first year of construction, with the expectation that the trail in its entirety will be opened after the second year of construction. While camping will not be allowed along the trail, there are many existing state, county, township and private campgrounds that will be connected to the trail who offer camping.