It’s time to hit the hills of Athens County, bikers.
The Wayne National Forest Service and the Outdoor Recreational Council of Appalachia officially opened the built portion of the Bailey’s Trail System for mountain biking. The opening had been delayed from the expected opening date of April 15 for all off-highway vehicles, equestrians and mountain bikes due to the pandemic.
Trails were still open for hiking until the official opening on May 29. However, the goal was always to allow more than hiking on the trails as a main goal for organizers of the Baileys Trail System was to draw tourist dollars into Athens County through mountain bike tourism.
Trail system organizers have surmounted many hurdles, but more are still to be addressed. One such hurdle continues to be difficulties in financing the project. About $3.6 million is needed to complete the trail, and many funding sources have become less of a certain bet for trail administrators as the global economy takes a pandemic-driven hit and government entities reassess financial reach.
The Athens City Council had approved an ordinance in December authorizing the city to enter into a financial commitment with the Outdoor Recreational Council of Appalachia. The ordinance would have the city pay a minimum of $90,000 each year for two decades, but no payments have yet been made by the city.
The County Commissioners also have discussed a one-time payment of $90,000 for the trail system, having already turned down an agreement similar to what the City signed. The payment was approved, but is now in question as the Commissioners reassess the county’s budget.
Dawn McCarthy, public relations officer for the Wayne, said the groups involved have not recently received any new grants, but that the National Forest Service has $350,000 that it would like to put toward the trail system as a recreational trail grant.
ORCA has promised to match 20 percent of that grant. The funding would go toward the second phase of trail construction. It would connect the Doanville trailhead to Nelsonville, among other attractive prospects.
Currently, ORCA is seeking an executive director, who will take the lead on financing for the trail system.
There have been individuals hiking on the trails for a while, according to Dawn McCarthy, public relations officer for the Wayne, but this allows for increased usage. Kiosks and trail markers have been installed at intersections and trailheads, but other things to benefit the trails are still in the works. Much of the work has been completed by volunteers.
McCarthy confirmed that once ORCA hires an executive director, the entity will be in charge of managing the trail system.