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A sign points to a trail in Bailey's Trail System on Wednesday, Jan 18, 2022.

ORCA promotes recreation, connects Southeast Ohio

Correction appended.

The Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, or ORCA, is an organization that promotes outdoor recreation, sustainability and tourism in Appalachian Ohio. The Baileys Trail System is just one of the outdoor recreation projects it oversees.

As a council of governments that includes the city of Athens, the village of Chauncey, the village of Buchtel, the city of Nelsonville, Athens County and York Township, ORCA's mission is to utilize Appalachian Ohio's outdoor recreational space, diversify the regional economy and provide sustainable resources for Ohioans represented within the organization. 

In a statement released by ORCA, Jessie Powers, the organization's executive director, wrote that the need to diversify Appalachian Ohio's regional economy had become critical, but those challenges opened new pathways for rural economic development. 

"The critical need to diversify our local and regional economy has come into sharp focus in recent months, but these challenges open new possibilities and novel approaches to rural economic development," Powers said in the statement.

ORCA also works in conjunction with Wayne National Forest coordinators to oversee improvement and expansion projects of the Baileys Trail System. 

The Baileys Trail System is a multi-county project that consists of an 88-mile single-track system of trails that accommodate mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers of various skill levels. 

The trail system was suggested in 1993 by a group of outdoor recreational investors who recommended creating a 16-mile mountain biking trail leading to Wayne National Forest. 

In May 2017, the Baileys Trail System was selected as the first National Forest conservation finance pilot project, and the initial plans were drawn. That led to its construction and continuing evolution as an outdoor attraction.

Peter Haverland, an Ohio University senior studying English, said he frequents the trail system. Haverland often enjoys runs with his ultimate frisbee teammates on the trails. 

"Last time I went was probably a month ago and I went on a trail run with my teammates," he said. "It was amazing…we drove there and we were running through the forest as the sun was rising—we ran for five miles, so it took us maybe 40 minutes."

As one of ORCA's board members, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson works directly alongside Powers. Patterson said most meetings typically lead with discussions about funding sources, land utilization and most recently, grant funding from the Appalachian Community Grant Program. 

"We've been discussing a lot as to whether or not ORCA should apply for implementation money from the Appalachian Community Grant — which is the half a billion dollars that the state has set aside for Appalachian counties," Patterson said.

Currently, ORCA receives its funding from investors, private and public corporations and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR. It has also thrived by creating its pay-for-success model for interested donors. 

"The way that pay-for-success works is that you look for investors who want to invest in something like outdoor recreation, but you have a sustainable way to ensure that the investors are going to see a proper return on their investment," Patterson said. 

For additional funding, the Athens City Council approved an annual expenditure of a $90,000 membership fee from the city's transient guest tax to cover the costs associated with the trail system's operation. 

ORCA also has a partnership with OU's Outdoor Pursuits, an educational program that presents opportunities for leadership, experiential learning and healthy outdoor recreation. 

Cody Lennon, assistant director of Outdoor Pursuits, said its partnership with ORCA is primarily through its rental program, which allows students to access mountain bike equipment for a significantly lower price. 

"What ORCA is doing, is just absolutely incredible and we support it," Lennon said. "What ORCA was able to do…(was) give us 15 bikes to rent out at Ping. This will be opened up in the spring so that students can rent $3,000 mountain bikes for $40." 

As for the future of ORCA, Patterson said the council is interested in opportunities to expand the organization outside of Athens County.

"I see us expanding into Washington County and to Morgan County, Perry County, Vinton County (and) Meigs County," Patterson said. "I (want) for us to all combine and have one central organization helping these surrounding counties and beyond, with some of the outdoor recreational assets that we know we have in Southeast Ohio." 

A previous version of this article stated that Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said Denton County when he actually said Vinton County. This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.


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