Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Sept. 11 newspaper on Page A1.
It appears that the city of Athens is leaning toward paying at least $1.8 million toward the long-coming Bailey’s Trail System project.
Seth Brown, a representative of Quantitative Ventures, a financial consulting group hired by the National Forest Foundation to secure funding for about half of the $12.3 million Bailey’s Trail System project, spoke about the project Monday at Athens City Council’s committee meetings. He told Council members that the city is being asked to pony up $90,000 a year for the next 20 years to help fund the project.
The project would eventually create 88 miles of non-motorized outdoor recreation trails in Athens County, starting at the Chauncey park, and has been heralded as a way to bring economic development through increased tourism.
Phase 1 of the trail project is to build 13 miles of trail beginning at Chauncey Park, and work is expected to begin later this month. The first section of trail will include some beginner, intermediate and advanced-rider trail.
The Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, a council of governments including the city of Athens, was recently formed to help with the project. That council asked the Athens County Port Authority to consider issuing 10-year bonds to generate $3 million as the ORCA’s portion of the project cost, which ORCA would then repay.
The Wayne National Forest has also begun fundraising for the project, having been awarded $150,000 through a grant by the Federal Recreational Trails Program. The Athens County Foundation has been awarded $150,000 in an REI/National Forest Foundation grant. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also received a $1.79 million federal grant to fund not only some aspects of the Bailey’s Trail System but also parts of the Chauncey spur of the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Economic Development Pilot program.
When queried by Athens City Council members on Monday, Brown said the only other governmental body within the county asked to also provide funding was the Athens County Commissioners. He emphasized that there would be many intangible benefits for all residents of the county, including access to quality outdoor recreation and increased access to areas of the county.
Mayor Steve Patterson advocated for Council members to bring forward a resolution authorizing him to enter into an agreement with ORCA that would commit the city to the base rate of $90,000 for the next 20 years, but did not commit the city to immediately begin payments.
Debbie Phillips, CEO of Rural Action, which is another partnering group on the project, said she believed in the project and was appreciative of the numerous questions Athens Council members asked. She noted that support work for the project has already begun with training on Airbnb hosting, presented by Rural Action. She noted that some residents have begun using that training already to bring in out-of-town guests.
“We know we can provide immediate, effective support (to the county),” Phillips said Monday, addressing some concerns that the communities around the trail system will not be able to support the anticipated influx of visitors.
City Auditor Kathy Hecht said she is always cautious of spending money outside the city, but “the impact is potentially a lot,” she noted.
Council members plan to move forward at next Monday’s meeting with legislation authorizing Mayor Patterson to enter into a contract promising the $1.8 million toward the project.