Tourism in Athens County could significantly increase as a result of a new mountain bike trail in Wayne National Forest.
The Wayne National Forest and the Athens Bicycle Club have been working on the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail project for more than a decade. When finished, the 88-mile system of trails will connect and add on to multiple mountain bike trails and multi-use trails throughout Athens County. The size and location of that trail are expected to draw a large number of tourists who seek to utilize and enjoy that landmark project and the communities surrounding it.
“Looking at the size of this both regionally and nationally, there is no other area that has a huge project like this one,” Peter Kotses, owner of Athens Bicycle and a member of Athens City Council, said. “Eighty-eight miles of trail in a contiguous piece of property is unheard of on the East Coast.”
A trail that large brings the potential to attract a large amount of tourism to Athens County, Kotses, D-At Large, said. Because the next largest mountain bike path east of the Mississippi River is in Asheville, North Carolina, Athens could become a regional and national hotspot for mountain bikers.
“Bikers do travel a lot, so having it be so close to Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and other areas definitely has a lot of potential to attract a large amount of people,” Andy Williamson, the director of programs for the International Mountain Biking Association, said.
The economic benefits of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail are huge for businesses in Athens County because those bikers will be looking for other commodities in the area to fill their time before, during and after riding. The people who planned the trail system want it to provide significant quality of life, economic and health benefits to Southeastern Ohio communities and residents.
“Communities in the area really add the other amenities that people that are traveling for trails look for,” Kotses said. “The trail is about two-thirds of the reason, but people want restaurants, lodging, shopping and entertaining things to do.”
The 88-mile Baileys Mountain Bike Trail will connect to the 21-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway and have trailheads in Chauncey, Buchtel, Nelsonville and The Plains. An increase in visitors to those towns in Athens County through that bike path is meant to help an economy that has been struggling for years.
“It would give folks the ability to stay in Athens or Nelsonville and then bike all the way to Chauncey since there are no hotels in Chauncey,” Athens County Planner Jessie Powers said.
That trail also has the potential to bring in jobs, but before the construction can begin, Wayne National Forest and the Athens Bicycle Club need to find sources of funding. The project is estimated to cost between $3 million and $6 million, reports.
“I can say now that we don’t have any funding, but I will also say that based on the conversations we are having, there are more opportunities to fund this than any at other forest property right now,” Kotses said.
Until the source of funding is found, the start of construction and the day the trail system opens will not be determined.