Close your eyes, and imagine...

It’s a beautiful fall day at the Lake of the Ozarks. Clear blue skies reflect off the early morning calmness of the Lake. With a backpack of sandwiches and water and other hiking accessories, you step onto a multi-surface trail that snakes through the forested hills not far from your house or condo.

As you begin your walk, the countryside envelopes you and the sounds of vehicles hitting the rumble strips on the highway give way to songbirds and the crunch of your shoes on the sticks and leaves. In the distance is the call of a lonely turkey. Overhead you spot an eagle. Or watch as the grizzly vultures glide in the thermals.

You take it all in, enjoying the solitude.

You’re on the Lake of the Ozark Magic Dragon Trail system.

Multi-use trails are typically two-way, off-road systems connecting parks, businesses, cultural attractions, and other outdoor recreation -- walking, jogging, biking, hiking, skating or with a wheelchair. The surfaces vary from paved to asphalt to gravel to natural surface. Multi-use trails combine greenways and trails allowing use by individuals of all ages and abilities.

And that’s the hope of the Community Foundation of the Lake.

“The Magic Dragon Trail Initiative is very important to the CFL as it is our first economic development project since our inception 13 years ago,” CFL President Amy Hernandez said. “We are thrilled that it could potentially generate new business all year round for all three counties we represent. This is a huge opportunity for the Lake area, and we are proud to be the source behind its creation.”

Enthusiastically cheerleading the project is Stacy Pyrtle, Community Foundation volunteer and trail enthusiast, and her husband, Jan. They see the trail system not only as an economic development tool but also as a way to get residents and visitors out of their homes and into Mother Nature.

“It’s a family friendly, low-cost activity for everyone,” she said. “We have the largest state park system in the state and it’s not getting the type of use it could.”

Stacy and her husband are retired from the Social Security Administration. He is an avid bicyclist, and she is an equally active hiker. They moved here four years ago and joined the Community Foundation of the Lake two years ago.

The Foundation has established the Magic Dragon Trail System as its initiative. That could open the door to a variety of helpful grants, and $70,000 in donations and grants toward a goal of $100,000 has been raised already. There’s enough to employ a trail design company, which will kick-start the project.

She notes that a 2012 study by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources found the economic impact of the Katy Trail is $18.5 million annually.

Where?

There are thousands of acres of State Park available, but there are also thousands of acres of private land that would suffice. All that’s needed is a donated easement across either public or private land for the multi-surface trails.

“The trails would be as minimally invasive as possible,” she explained.

The initial target area is west of the Grand Glaize Bridge.

Stacy points to the success of similar trails in Northwest Arkansas, adding that the Lake of the Ozarks has far more amenities to support residents and visitors.

A multi-surface trail system generally consists of both hard surface greenways and soft surface trails. These two-way off-road systems can be used for numerous forms of recreation such as walking, biking, hiking, jogging, running, skating, as well as wheelchair accessible. One of the biggest benefits of a multi-surface trails system is they are a safe connection corridor to businesses, cultural attractions, parks, and other recreation sites. Multi-surface trails are often a partnership between public and private entities and public and private land. The surface can vary from paved to asphalt to gravel to natural surfaces. They are designed to be used by all ages and for all skill levels.

Stacy envisions a network of trails connected by hubs.

Studies show availability of trails and greenways impact people’s decision on where to vacation, how long they stay and whether they will return. They are proven to increase surrounding property values, reduce health care costs for the community, as well as revitalize and grow businesses near trails.

A recent study conducted about bicycling in Northwest Arkansas found their multi-surface trails drew about 90,000 – 150,000 out-of-state visitors to the area spending $27 million annually.

Osage Beach and the Lake area are perfectly suited for a year-round trail system due to the area’s topography and moderate climate. The rocky soil drains well allowing trails to be used quickly after rain or snow compared with most parts of the country. The moderate climate is also perfect for year-round usage compared to traditional mountain area.

The current infrastructure at the Lake meets the needs to serve the additional tourists the trail system would bring to the area in typical “off-season” times. The lodging, restaurants, and entertainment venues visitors want and need, are already here, putting the Lake way ahead of other communities vying for funding dollars.

The Lake area will be able to leverage a trail system to entice new business development. Companies often chose to locate/relocate to communities with numerous amenities as it allows them to attract and retain high-level workers. In the current global economy, where businesses and workers can literally locate anywhere, trails can be a huge magnet.

How can you help?

The project needs donations. And, if a landowner is interested, either a donation of land (tax right-off ) or the dedication of an easement.

To donate online, click on: online donations to the Community Foundation of the Lake.

For mailed donations:

Make checks to "Community Foundation of the Lake" (CFL) and write "donation" in the memo line then mail to: Community Foundation of the Lake PO Box 1413 Lake Ozark, MO 65049

For more information, call 573-480-9973 or click on https://www.communityfoundationofthelake.com

This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: Community Foundation sponsoring initiative for lakewide trail system