West of Gaylord is one of Michigan’s newest nature preserves. It contains the abandoned remains of Echo Valley Resort. The forgotten building is not open to the public, but the one story fieldstone motel that once welcomed guests is an interesting sight to see. The property also has what remains of an old sawmill town which evolved into the Johannesburg Manufacturing Company. The only reminders of the town are collapsed buildings and an old windmill. The trail that takes hikers to this old town is called Antique Alley. It is lined with abandoned and rusting turn of the century trucks and equipment.
The eight hundred acres of land was given to Otsego county after Louis M. Groen’s death in 2011. Mr. Groen and his wife, Edna, had owned the property for twenty two years and wanted future generations to enjoy and appreciate the land they loved. They donated the land to Otsego County along with a trust fund for maintenance and future activities. Groen lived in Cincinnati Ohio and owned over forty McDonald’s franchises.
Groen is most noted for inventing the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. During Lent the predominantly Catholic Cincinnati area was not interested in buying hamburgers on Friday. He came up with the fish sandwich to sell to his customers. Ray Kroc, the CEO of the corporation, did not want to sell fish and came up with a competing sandwich made with a slice of pineapple which he called the Hula Burger. Groen expressed his concerns that the Hula Burger would not sell. Kroc told him to put both on the menu for a weekend and whichever one sold the most would stay on the menu. After selling more than four hundred Filet-O-Fish sandwiches to only a handful of Hula Burgers, the fish sandwich has remained on the McDonald’s menu to this day. With the money from his McDonald’s franchises Groen purchased the wooded property just north of the little town of Johannesburg. It has two small lakes and twenty miles of trails for hiking, biking and cross country skiing. The preserve is an excellent place to explore, not only nature, but some early Michigan history.
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