Michigan’s Dragon at Hardy Dam: A unique trail on an international scale is in development

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.

Proposed Dragon trail along the Muskegon River
Proposed Dragon trail along the Muskegon River

The state of Michigan boasts many notable outdoor adventure venues that cater to a variety of user stakeholder 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. It promotes west Michigan’s triple bottom line: financial, social and environmental performance measures. 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. The Dragon trail promises to put west Michigan on the world stage for adventure sports destinations when completed, hosting both sanctioned and unsanctioned mountain biking and running competitions, as well as several related winter activities.

The trail

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:

  • A dramatic and challenging 47.5 mile mountain biking and pedestrian adventure loop trail designed, engineered and endorsed by the prestigious IMBA. It will be one of the largest loop trails of its kind anywhere in the world that will be managed by the Mecosta and Newaygo county parks boards and maintained through revenues and fees generated from the trail.
  • The proposed trail will be located exclusively on land owned by Consumers Energy and is virtually unspoiled with stunning water views, challenging valleys and 23 proposed bridges along the trail, making it unique among all trail systems in North America. This professionally engineered, constructed, maintained and managed trail will take two full years to complete and requires Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval.
Key features of the Dragon trail
  • 47.5 mile mountain biking and pedestrian adventure loop trail
  • Water views, valleys and 23 bridges linking several existing township, county, state and private campgrounds
  • Positions our area as a truly unique adventure sports destination for visitors worldwide
  • Provides a regional economic engine, which will create several dozen new jobs
  • Demonstrates widespread government, agency and private support across stakeholders
  • Provides an important stage for adventure sports competitions
  • Will connect to the Edge Pathway System and the North Country Trail, with a planned connection to the White Pine Trail State Park
  • Provides direct access to the Muskegon River for multi-sport events
Economic impact

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:

  • An annual increase in economic activity of over $4.15 million per year
  • An annual increase of nearly 105,000 visitors
  • The creation of 70 new jobs

For additional information, you may contact Ryan Coffey at coffeyry@anr.msu.edu or 231-924-9677.

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