Michigan’s Dragon Trail for cyclists and hikers  

October 28, 2021

Michigan’s Dragon Trail for cyclists and hikers  

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

Newaygo and Mecosta counties along with Consumers Energy have partnered together in anticipation of creating a 47-mile trail that encircles Hardy Dam Pond northeast of Newaygo on the Muskegon River. In 2015, the plan began to move forward, and the first segments of the trail opened in 2020. 

Named Michigan’s Dragon, the trail takes its name from the suggestive shape of Hardy Dam Pond as seen from the air. One can imagine a dragon with its head located at the dam, and the tail wriggling upstream. Most of the trail is close enough to the water to provide beautiful views in any season. 

Although primarily for day use, several of the parks along the route provide overnight camping for a fee. Dispersed camping will not be allowed. When completed, it will be possible, with planning, to backpack the loop. Some segments will be suitable for skiing and snowshoeing, although the most sinuous and moguled portions that delight cyclists may not appeal to a cross-country skier. Two-way traffic is permitted. Horses are not allowed.

On a delightfully cool autumn day, two friends and I hiked from Big Bend Park to Consumers Beach Park, doing a total of 13.2 miles. There were just enough hills to give us a good workout. It was a weekend and bicycle use was heavy. Hikers might want to concentrate on weekday use when feasible. We had to step off the trail so much that it did become annoying. Most cyclists were courteous, but there are always a few who are focused on speed. With tight curves in the trail we needed to be vigilant to avoid collisions.

West Michigan Mountain Biking Alliance has taken on the responsibility for maintenance of the professionally developed trail. Although hikers and runners are welcome to use the trail, it’s primary design goal is to satisfy mountain bikers’ love for dips, small hills, optional minor jumps and banked curves. The trail is a cyclist’s delight. Some portions could be challenging, but there is nothing too technical for a novice rider.

The biggest expense and challenge of construction is placing the many bridges which are required to span streams. Nearly indestructible, pre-fab fiberglass bridges are being put in place. Trail users will not need to worry about wet feet and difficult water crossings.

Parking at any of the county parks requires a $7 per day self-service pass. Note that there are two counties involved, so a pass for Newaygo County would not be honored in Mecosta County. A yearly pass for Newaygo County is $35, and for Mecosta, $30. Newaygo County also offers a three day option for $18. There is no additional fee to use the trail.

Hardy and Croton Dams on the Muskegon River were built in the 1930s for hydroelectric power, and they still provide electricity. Hardy Dam is the largest packed-earth dam east of the Mississippi River, and is the third largest in the world.

There are currently 14.6 miles of the Dragon Trail open to the public. These miles are not contiguous, but the longest continuous section goes from Big Bend Park on 16th Street to the east side of Hardy Dam, for about 12 miles. The trail that crosses the dam is the original narrow pedestrian walkway directly adjacent to the road, which may be intimidating for walkers with dogs or small children. Note that the water is drawn down in winter, so exposed lower banks will be the norm during that season. Note that the trail may be closed when muddy to prevent treadway damage. Check the website for current conditions.

There are also small sections open at Newaygo State Park, and from Brower Park in Mecosta County. Other segments are under construction.

The three mile rustic nature trail south of the dam along the river which has been in place for many years is still open for day use. A paved trail, six miles long, connects Hardy Dam to Croton Dam. This trail is called The Edge.

It’s easy to find short trails in west Michigan, pleasant for walking your dog or taking a stroll. Longer options are limited. Michigan’s Dragon already offers a good, solid, day-long route, and when completed, the possibilities for non-motorized recreation will be nearly as endless as the loop.

For more information, visit https://www.thedragon.us

Joan Young, who lives in Amber Township, is an avid hiker who has the honor of having been the first woman to hike the entire North Country Trail.

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This story is copyrighted © 2021, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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