Mountain bikers around the country waiting for the construction of what will become one of the longest trails in the country are about to hear some welcome news: the wait is almost over.
The planning for the construction of the 88-mile-long Baileys Mountain Bike Trail began over a decade ago but only recently received the funding needed to begin working on the project. Phase 1 of the trail, which is a 13-mile stretch near Chauncey, began construction and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
“I think we will start to see some benefits when we open the first 13 miles of trail,” Dawn McCarthy, Wayne National Forest public affairs officer, said. “One of the things that we have missing in our area are beginner trails. At least half of what we’re putting in with this first 13 miles is beginner trails.”
The project, which is expected to take three years to complete all 88 miles, was originally estimated to cost $3.4 million dollars with an additional $2 million for added trailheads along the route. McCarthy said they have exceeded this estimate and expect it to cost more.
Phase 1 of the project has received funding from multiple sources including $150,000 from the Recreational Trails Program. The Wayne National Forest has also entered into an agreement with the Athens County Foundation who received a grant from the National Forest Foundation for another $150,000.
That $300,000 plus an additional $20,000 in funding from their own appropriations is being used for Phase 1.
There are currently four trail builders being contracted to work on the construction: Bike Park Solutions, Black Diamond Design, Appalachian Dirt and Linear Active. Bike Park Solutions is the only one working on the trail currently.
Other funding for the trail at large includes $1.8 million in possible grant funds that the State of Ohio and the Ohio Division of Natural Resources get from the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Economic Development Pilot Program.
The National Forest Service has also been partnering with the National Forest Foundation to bring in Quantified Ventures, a firm out of Washington D.C. that works primarily on conservation financing.
Funds from Athens County and the City of Athens have also been looked into, including $1.2 million from a tax on lodgings such as AirBnbs. If passed, this 3% tax would pay $90,000 per year.
The construction of the remaining 75 miles of the trail is dependent on receiving funding from these various sources. McCarthy said it could take 10-15 more years to finish if they funding is not granted or approved.
Athens County has experienced the effects of a new bike trail system once before when the 21-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway was built. Members of the local biking community feel that the region could experience many of the same effects.
Peter Kotses, the owner of Athens Bicycle, and John Lefelhocz, a co-owner of Cycle Path Bicycles agree that this trail could jumpstart an interest in entry-level mountain bikers.
“People will sometimes try mountain biking and say that it's too difficult,” Lefelhocz said. “Especially the entry level cyclist who is fearful of going on the roads and riding now has an outlet for a place to go ride through the woods without traffic.”
Kotses, who is also a member of Athens City Council (D-At Large) and a member of the Athens Bicycle Club, has been working on this project for years and is hoping the trail will be more than just an economic boom for the county.
“There are a lot of intangible benefits that really benefit community members that comes from having a system like this close by,” Kotses said.
Some of these benefits impact the health of the people who are riding bikes and others include an effect on morale of local communities near the bikepath’s trailheads.
The trail will connect to the 21-mile Hocking Adena Bikeway and have trailheads in Chauncey, Buchtel, Nelsonville, Doanville and The Plains.
Kotses said the struggling economies in this region a big reason why morale and pride in the local community seems so low. He said having this trail in the area and seeing people flock to their neighborhoods from all over the country could help this and benefit the community.
Both Kotses and Lefelhocz are unsure if their businesses will see a boost from the new trail but both are optimistic about the impact the trail will have once it is completed.
“It's hard to quantify what the impact will be. Our business will definitely see an increase, but how much? It's hard to say.” Lefelhocz said.
Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly misspelled Doanville. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.