Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Nov. 21 newspaper on Page A1.
Athens City Council members inched one step closer to approving $1.8 million in public funding to the Baileys Trail system.
The conversation regarding the 88-mile trail system, to be built out-of-town in the Wayne National Forest, was mostly positive. It seems like Council members remain mostly in favor of supporting this funding.
A vote has not yet been taken, and will likely happen in December.
Council members remarked positively about amendments made to the proposed funding agreement and audience members offered support of Council’s approach to the funding. Mayor Steve Patterson and other local leaders remain confident the trail project will have tangible benefits to Athens.
In sum, it was largely agreed that the project is worth funding; that Athens can afford it; and that the city will retain the right to back out of funding increase requests in the future, if so needed.
The city has been asked by the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, of which Athens Mayor Steve Patterson is a member, to provide a total of $1.8 million — to be paid out in $90,000 annual increments over the next 20 years. There is also an option for ORCA to come back after five years and request additional funding from the city, or for the city to withdraw from the agreement within that five-year time period.
The total trail project is expected to cost more than $12 million. Proponents believe the project will draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area, creating a widespread economic benefit through tourism-related spending.
The Council ordinance to approve the funding agreement had been up for final approval two weeks ago, but was tabled to allow for further investigation into how the agreement worked, and what would be expected of the city through the contract.
Council member Jeffrey Risner introduced amendments that tighten the city’s control over handling the project’s funding. The amendments also expanded upon the details of how the city hypothetically could withdraw from said agreement in the future.
The revised ordinance will go through two more readings before a vote is made.
Many individuals spoke out in favor of the trail system at Council’s Monday meeting. Amy Renner, mayor-elect in Chauncey, said she was thankful for the city’s consideration of the funding, noting that the project means a lot to her as a resident and to others in the village. (Part of the project calls for building a trailhead at Chauncey’s local park.) Renner said the project has “serious implications for positive change,” and asked for Council members to approve the funding.
Hocking College ecotourism professor Scott Kreps also lent his support. He read from a statement that noted Hocking College’s support of the funding. The institution has also offered facilities and other resources to help with the Baileys Trail.