The largest contiguous mountain bike trail system east of the Mississippi River will be constructed in Athens County and will consist of 88 miles of pathways through the Wayne National Forest.
Bailey’s Trail System will flow through Chauncey and Nelsonville on approximately 9,000 acres of forest land and will connect to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The trail will culminate in trailheads in Chauncey, Nelsonville and Buchtel.
The trail has been in the works with officials at the Wayne National Forest since 1994 when trail users in the area sought trails for mountain biking, which was a relatively new sport at the time. Interest, support and community involvement for the project waned through the years, but the project has since gained traction from more than 50 partners and collaborators and is expected to be brought to fruition.
The land has already been cleared, mapped on GPS and is “shovel-ready,” Councilman Peter Kotses, D-At Large, said.
The renewed Baileys Trail initiative was spurred from meetings in 2015 and 2016 between former Wayne National Forest Supervisor Anthony Scardina and members of the user groups, including Kotses. Kotses at the time was not yet elected to City Council but was a member of Athens Bike Club and held a vested interest in recreational improvements in Athens.
Kotses said Scardina, who he described as a “collaborator,” wanted to build relationships between user groups that may use the trails: mountain bikers, motorcyclists and horsemen, among others.
The project needed a bottom-to-top approach in terms of community involvement. Without community support, the project would not be feasible.
“It’s a different style of leadership that you specifically don’t really find in, say, the military or something like that where it’s really top-down,” Kotses said. “It’s not where there’s just one leader, and they’re just issuing orders. This is more the idea where you’re trying to get input from everybody to buy in.”
The project’s many partners support it for a variety of reasons. Kotses says the Health Department supports the project because an accessible trail system may positively influence community members’ mental and physical health. Revenue generated from the trail system is of interest to organizations like Rural Action and ACEnet, which seek to strengthen the region’s economic sectors and develop community.
According to a previous Post report, Ohio University is also involved in the project.
Chris Knisely, the City Council president, said the project is estimated to cost $10 million in total. The project has been selected through a competitive process as a pilot program for a “pay-for-success” model through Quantified Ventures, a private impact investor that seeks a return on investments that also yield positive community impacts.
With the pay-for-success model, the Wayne National Forest and affiliated organizations will pay back contracted Quantified Ventures at a rate indicative of the amount of revenue that is generated from the project. If the project yields less money, payments will reflect a shortage and be lower than they would be if return is high.
Kotses said that although the project has stalled in the past, it is moving forward very quickly.
The final step before construction, he said, is funding. Collaborators are looking at grants to supplement Quantified Venture’s contribution.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how this has gotten to the point where it is right now. You tend to work on it as piece-by-piece and then all of a sudden you look back and see you’ve covered some ground,” Kotses said.