Wayne National Forest to construct 88 new miles of trail
After years of planning, Wayne National Forest, which spans across 12 southeastern Ohio counties, received approval to begin the construction of 88 additional miles of biking and hiking paths. The Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System, to be located between Athens and Nelsonville, will connect to other trails along the 21 miles of the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, creating a trail network over 136 miles long.
Planning for the Baileys Trail expansion began in 1994, but Wayne National Forest received the green-light to begin planning and fundraising in December 2017. Trail construction has not started yet, but Wayne National Forest Public Affairs Officer Gary Chancey says the community is already heavily involved in the planning process. Most of the project’s survey work was completed by Ohio University students interning for Wayne National Forest.
“We brought on six interns last year that helped us complete our environmental studies survey,” Athens District Ranger Jason Reed says.
The Athens Bicycle Club is also helping with trail-planning, construction, maintenance and long-term management of the expansion. Already, the Bike Club has helped map over 35 miles of trail with GPS units. Over the span of 10 days, 12 Bike Club volunteers walked through the forest to help design the trail system.
“I walked with a couple of trail developers,” Kotses says, “and these guys are in the woods all over the world. One guy I was with said he had never seen anything like this before.”
Due to coal mining in the area, hillsides eroded and left “shelves,” causing some issues with drainage. By walking the proposed trail, volunteers and developers were able to improve and change the trail’s location to better fit southeastern Ohio’s unique landscape.
The Athens County government is also supporting the project, with involvement from the Athens County Planner and Commissioner, the health department and the Village of Chauncey.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re not just focusing on the Athens population, but looking at those small communities, because we really see that’s where the most benefit would be,”Athens District Recreation Team Leader Dawn McCarthy says.
The ultimate goal of the project is not only to create more recreational trails in southeastern Ohio, but to bring tourists to the area helping boost the local economy.
“We’re already seeing some interest in land in the Chauncey area and the areas surrounding the mountain bike trail system,” McCarthy says. “We do know that it could help with real estate prices there, but we also are trying to do something where the communities can create small business enterprises.”
The start date of construction is not finalized yet, but construction will begin once funding is secured. Estimated to cost range is from $3 million to $6 million.
As of now, Wayne National Forest has received confirmation that they will be participating in the Quantified Ventures Pay for Success (PFS) pilot program, which will aid the Wayne National Forest in finding private investors to pay the initial construction costs of the trail expansion.
In addition to increased tourism, some hopes for this specific project are that property values around the trail will rise and local businesses will gain more customers.
“When you are in a place and someone else goes 300 miles out of their way to go to your place, that changes your relationship with you and your world and how you value where you come from. That’s intangible,” Seth Brown, senior associate for Quantified Ventures, says.
“Ohio University has some amazing professors who do research in this field,” Brown says about the evaluation process. He says that faculty could help design evaluation criteria for the project in order to better track success outcomes.
Though the PFS pamphlet states the trail expansion was to be funded in “5+ years or more,” the PFS program, the hope is to fund the expansion in one year and begin construction shortly after.
“We’re hoping to wrap up the feasibility study by the end of March,” Brown says. “That will take a few months, but after we rock that out we’ll be ready to roll.”