Successful rural placemaking: a Newaygo County example

Placemaking efforts can improve infrastructure and provide safe, healthy recreation and tourism opportunities while promoting economic development for rural Michigan communities.

Rural placemaking can be done! While much of the focus on placemaking is targeted at urban and suburban areas around the state, there are also many efforts in rural Michigan that often go unreported because they are smaller in scale or are not necessarily identified as placemaking. These efforts, however, provide public places in our rural communities that capitalize on local assets and can promote health, safety, economic development and other quality-of-life factors.

Newaygo County is well known for its recreation and tourism opportunities. The county is home to many lakes, rivers, and a national forest, contains hundreds of miles of trails and many parks and campgrounds with over a thousand campsites. The county is also home to two large dams: the Croton Dam and the Hardy Dam, one of the largest earthen dams in the world. Area municipalities, businesses and other organizations have established the priority of community and economic development around these natural resources, and the Muskegon River is their biggest asset. World class fishing attracts people from as far away as Europe and Asia, and annual events such as Newaygo Nationals and Hot Boat Weekend bring in tens of thousands of people from across the country.

Key local leaders, working with Michigan State University Extension, developed a dam-to-dam community pathway following the Muskegon River in an effort to develop infrastructure that would support local communities and promote health, safety, non-motorized transportation and economic development.  A pathway project was proposed along Croton-Hardy Drive, based on population centers and business locations, recreation and tourist opportunities, safety, land-ownership patterns, private-property considerations, construction and legacy costs. The team worked with local townships, the county road commission and Consumer’s Energy to develop engineering, secure municipal funding and develop a successful grant request to the Fremont Area Community Foundation. Construction on the six mile, half-million dollar pathway began earlier this summer and will be completed by fall.

The new pathway will provide locals and visitors with a safe pathway to walk, run and bike for exercise or to access local businesses, parks and the Muskegon River. The pathway will also be utilized in conjunction with the river to host biathlon and triathlon events. This pathway is a long-term investment in the infrastructure of Newaygo County to promote and preserve the area’s rural character and provide safe, healthy, non-motorized transportation options while capitalizing on recreation and tourism-based economic development opportunities around the area’s bountiful natural resources.