Mountain biking saved my life….well, that’s an exaggeration, but it definitely improved my overall quality of life. I moved up to Newaygo county last August from Calhoun county, were I thoroughly enjoyed the trails of Fort Custer. However, by this time I was a new dad, starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic and hadn’t found much time to ride since my son was born and was the heaviest I had been in my entire life.
One serendipitous day I happened to stumble upon a post about a new trail that was being built very close called The Dragon…I thought….”The Dragon….I like the sound of that!”
So, on a late January day I put on my snowshoes and decided to check it out. I only hiked about 3 miles from Hardy Marina before it became crystal clear that this trail was epic! However, I had one huge problem, I had just sold my fat bike just before moving so I quickly remedied that issue thanks to Facebook Marketplace. I could not believe how well groomed the trail was during the winter and wished I could meet the courageous individuals responsible for keeping the trail in such amazing shape.
The trail always had such a firm base which made the ride so fast and flowy without ever feeling like you were losing control….. I was immediately obsessed and knew this trail was going be my 4 seasons trail for many years to come.
Once the snow gives way to dirt you will find an amazingly well designed, built, and maintained trail that utilizes the natural train in such a way that there is something for every skill level. Over 14 miles of trail have been completed to date with a total 47 miles planned! The first section heading North from Hardy dam is section 9. This 1.7 miles long segment serves as a great warm up and I would regard it as family friendly. This is not to say it’s boring by any means, as you will find a few features like a log skinny & a few opportunities to catch some air if you’re feeling frisky. If not, all these are easy to simply ride around.
Once you get to Sandy Beach Park heading North, you enter section 9 & the trail changes it’s personality quite a bit. This 7.4 mile section is one of the most fast & flowy trails I’ve ever encountered anywhere, let alone in West Michigan. This section has several of tables tops that are very forgiving, perfect for beginners who are learning proper technique as you will definitely be a case-a-holic (casing-to come up short & experience a rougher landing than intended) for a while before you learn the necessary speed and technique. This is by far the most physical segment with some relatively lengthy and steep climbs reaching a an elevation of around 900ft according to Strava. Dig deep
though, because all this climbing affords you some spectacular views and several well deserved joyrides downhill where you can carry some serious speed if you are so inclined. There are also several rock drops & jumps of varying skill lever for those who are looking for more of an adrenal rush, and these are located roughly between miles 6 & 7 (there are mile markers all along the trail) from Hardy Dam, some designed for heading North and others designed for heading South. Again, all of these features are easy to simply ride around if you’re not ready yet. Upon completion of section 9 heading North you’ll dump out on a short little double track at 16th street that you’ll want to follow the signage and hang a right which will lead you to the 1.8 miles long, segment 8. This is a super fun segment with a completely different feel as the soil composition get a lot more diverse as you ride along. I’ve found this section to be a great one for practicing my cornering. It can get pretty tight amongst the trees in parts and also has some opportunities to catch some air before you hit the halfway point at Big Bend park where you can take in a restroom break, eat a snack, and drink some water before you get to do the whole glorious ride all over again heading South.
Here’s a quick tip for riding bi-directional; you will have several blind sections where it is vital you practice good safety etiquette by making your presence known. When you come to these sections or any section you are feeling leery of, please simply shout “rider!” to alert any potential rider heading the opposite direction of your whereabouts so you can meet each other on friendly, fun, and un-painful terms. For more information about the trail such as trail etiquette & conditions you can check out thedragon.us and/or visit the Michigan’s Dragon at Hardy Dam Facebook page.
My renewed passion for mountain biking is due primarily to me discovery of the Dragon. Since that first ride on my fat bike back in February I’ve lost over 25lbs and am in the best shape I’ve been in since college. I’ve encountered many amazing people and picked up a few new riding buddies along the way. I hope this article will inspire you to discover the beauty & joy of Newaygo counties own Dragon trail.
by Colin Sherfild