Editor, The Messenger:

The construction of the full 88 miles of the Baileys Trail System in the Wayne National Forest is our one big shot at transforming our ranking as the poorest county in Ohio.

Our greatest asset in Athens County, after the people, is the beauty of our natural environment. From the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, we celebrate rock cliffs, rivers, lakes, trails, wildlife and wildflowers. Yet, we have not told the story of our rich resources much beyond our own knowing.

The Bailey Mountain Bike Trails are designed to preserve the trees and resources in the Wayne as they meander around hills and valleys, over streams and boulders and through lush meadows. Bike enthusiasts will come seeking food, lodging, beverages and things to do with their families. They will return home with stories and “selfies” to share with friends and colleagues. And we believe, they will come from far away to ride the longest trail east of the Mississippi!

The trail, once complete, will attract not only over 200,000 visitors per year, it will give local business a huge boost, improve tax revenue and housing. Many, many partners have worked diligently, without conflict or power grabs, to see the goal of completing all 88 miles through.

I know I won’t be able to name them all, but in addition to the Wayne National Forest, these groups are on the ground, working hard to make this dream happen: Ohio University, Hocking College, the City of Athens, Athens County, the Village of Chauncey, Town of Nelsonville, United States Department of Agriculture, Athens City-County Health Department, Hocking Athens Perry Community Action Program, Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, National Forest Foundation, Department of Natural Resources, Athens Bicycle Club, Athens County Foundation, Rural Action, Appalachian Regional Commission, Local Business, and many more.

Why should we think about the future? For the people of Athens who wish to stay here and prosper. To preserve our beautiful environment. To boost our economy and tax base to provide needed services and infrastructure. To offer assets that would attract young talent to come here to work and live. And to attract visitors to stay in our hotels, eat our food and enjoy our wonderful county!

So what is our hesitation? Will we let our fear of scarcity allow us to fall into attrition, a state of stagnancy? Or will we embrace opportunity, a chance to celebrate our past while planning for the future, for our children and their children. Will we walk forward toward growth and abundance or shrink backward toward safety and stagnancy? Will we take a risk, for once, to benefit future generations?

Although I’ll never ride a mountain bike, I for one will take a step into the future and continue to work to see this one is a lifetime opportunity to fruition. And I will walk these beautiful trails!

Susan Urano

Executive Director of The Athens County Foundation

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