If you didn’t know Rockport State Recreation Park was in Michigan, you might think you had landed on another planet. The new state park - located on the banks of Lake Huron - encompasses more than 4000 dense forest acres, includes a 300-acre abandoned limestone quarry, a bat hibernaculum, and some of the best Devonian Era fossil hunting in the lower 48 states.
Its rich history means that today, it is both breathtaking and stark.
Rockport received its State Recreation designation in 2012, and right away, Casey Stutzman realized its potential. Stutzman, who owns a training gym called Performance Locker, is a self-described “collector of hobbies.” He is an avid mountain biker and trail runner and loves to take his paddleboard out on Lake Huron.
“Rockport is this really unique and really amazing piece of property that is basically a blank canvas,” he said.
The park, which is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is one of many state recreation designations. As of 2015, the land had no infrastructure, no signage, no marked trails, and no maps partly due to huge demands on the Michigan DNR in other areas of the state. Comprised of game trails, foot trails, old mining roads, and power line trails, the challenge was to find a way to sustainably develop and build awareness of Rockport on a limited budget to improve the park's infrastructure.
The Friends of Rockport – a non-profit, volunteer association – was established to work in conjunction with the Michagan DNR to create recreation opportunities for the park.
“For a long time, Rockport was just a place known by a handful of locals,” said Stutzman. “We wanted to create awareness for the park but also give the Friends group a consistent annual fundraiser.”
Stutzman decided to hold a race in the park, and contacted 3Disiplines Racing to help organize the event. Every penny of the race proceeds goes right back to the park.
“Ken at 3Disciplines suggested we get an XTERRA designation,” said Stutzman. “He said that all the things that we perceived as negatives - like the technical course, non-traditional trails, loose gravel, and steep rock climbs - would be perceived as positives by the XTERRA community.”
This was in late 2015. For the next three months, Stutzman went riding – and getting lost – in Rockport until he found a way to connect the disparate trails into a race course. Working together as a team, Stutzman, 3Disciplines, the DNR, the Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Friends of Rockport not only created an XTERRA race, but mapped the trails, created trail markers, and clearly labeled the trail junctions so that now anyone can enjoy the natural beauty of the park.
On August 19th, the second annual XTERRA Rockport Rugged featured an entire medley of races:
- Olympic Triathlon - 1000m swim, 15.1 mi MTB, 5.6 mi trail run = XTERRA points series
- Sprint Triathlon - 500m swim, 8 mi MTB, 5k trail run
- Olympic Aquabike - 1000m swim, MTB
- Sprint Aquabike - 500m swim, MTB
- Sprint Kaya-Tri - 2 mile Kayak/SUP, 8 mi. MTB, 5k trail run
Forty-degree water temperatures necessitated a replacement of the swim with another run this year, but the event was so popular, it was covered by the local news.
“This is such a unique place,” said Stutzman. “One of the reasons I love the park so much is that I can take my paddle board, my bike, and my running shoes and spend the whole day there.”
XTERRA Rockport Rugged is truly a labor of love and a testament to what can happen when people who love what they do come together as a community to make a huge change.
Margaret Mead said it best when she wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
If you would like to donate to the cause, please visit www.friendsofrockport.org.
Learn more about XTERRA Rockport Rugged at www.performancelocker.com.