BIG PRAIRIE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Above the Hardy Dam and pond, it isn’t quite the busy summer season, but it will be soon. And if a project eight years in the making goes as planned, next year the area will be busier than ever.
“We’re trying to create energy, excitement, enthusiasm,” Scott Faulkner explained to 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
Faulkner is the fundraising coordinator for “The Dragon,” a planned natural surface, 3-foot-wide trail designed for hiking and mountain biking.
“You can see, on a map, (the trail) actually does look like a dragon,” Faulkner explained the name.
Developers have created what looks like a movie poster to promote the project, which has yet to break ground.
The trail will be built around the Hardy Dam Pond on the Muskegon River. It will be 47 miles long and run through parts of Newaygo and Mecosta counties. Developers want to add suspension bridges and scenic overlooks. They say the trail will connect campgrounds, marinas and other businesses that surround the massive pond.
“This is literally the first time in history that most of these points on the map have been connected,” Faulkner said. “It’s something that people will come from around the world to experience.”
Through expected state grants, community donations and county funds, developers have already secured nearly $2 million for the project. They’re looking to raise $1.5 million more in corporate donations.
They believe the trail could bring millions of dollars to the area each year.
“The average mountain biking fanatic will drive five hours for a weekend of mountain biking. And there’s 19 million people that live within five hours of this trail. So we think that’s going to be impressive and very valuable for our communities,” Faulkner said.
The Chesley family owns three stores near the Hardy Pond, including the Hilltop General Store. Their businesses rely heavily on tourism and they’re excited for the project to come to life.
“We’re super excited,” Kylee Chesley said. “Businesses all around, everybody’s geeked. We’re excited to see all these new faces (from) all around the country, all around the world potentially.”
24 Hour News 8 asked Faulkner if some people were skeptical about the lofty goals for the project.
“Come and see,” he challenged. “We’re committed. This trail will get built.”
“We have done all the planning, and because of that our confident is very high,” he added.
Because the trail is on property owned by Consumers Energy, the project requires special federal approval. Developers are still waiting on final approval but say once they get that, the full website will go live and they will break ground on the project.
They hope to break ground within weeks and have the project finished in 2020.