Athens City Council spent the first hour of its weekly meeting Monday discussing the case both for and against the Bailey’s Trail System while also hearing from advocates of the project.
Seth Brown of Quantified Ventures began with a presentation outlining the need for the city to invest in the endeavor. The city is being asked to contribute a minimum base of $90,000 per year for 20 years. The city would have the ability to close out at any point.
“This trail system is going to have a lot of benefits to a lot of people, and it is important to know that if no one comes and no one spends any money, this is going to be a valuable asset to the people of Athens County,” Brown said.
Not all councilmembers are completely on board with the plan. Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, has been a known skeptic of the project.
“The risk is quite high for the city,” Fahl said. “I must admit that now having Rural Action on board gives a huge amount of credibility to this process.”
Paige Alost, director of Athens County Visitor’s Bureau and an avid supporter of the project, made her feelings known to council.
“We talk about this project as the best opportunity that has come to our county, and to this specific area of the county, since coal mining… What are our other options for economic development here?” Alost said. “I really want you to think about the future of this.”
Dan Twilley, senior lecturer of recreation and sport pedagogy at Ohio University brought his personal testimony and outside case studies to the attention of council.
Among other studies, Twilley cited Kingdom Trails in rural Vermont. Over the last eight years, Kingdom Trails has seen a 20% increase in visitation including 140,00 visitors in 2018 that brought $10 million to the region.
“They don’t nearly have the infrastructure and opportunities that we have in our community to do so,” Twilley said. “These numbers that we’re talking about in terms of visitation and potential economic impact have been tested and proven in other areas. We’re trying to bring that opportunity here.”