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Ohio Ag Connection - 03/12/2018

An outdoor recreation proposal that sprouted nearly 25 years ago has taken root thanks to the efforts of a diverse and growing group of local residents and community leaders, including several members of the Ohio University community, all of whom envision the project as a means of elevating the region.

In December, the Wayne National Forest announced that it had approved the development of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System, an 88-mile, single-track trail designed for mountain bikers of various skill level, but accessible to all outdoor enthusiasts, including hikers, trail runners and nature lovers. Located between the Athens County communities of Chauncey and Nelsonville on approximately 9,000 acres of Forest land dubbed the "Baileys Tract," the trail system will connect to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, providing access to Athens and existing mountain bike trails at Sells Park and Strouds Run State Park.

While construction on the trail has yet to begin, it is already providing educational benefits to Ohio University students, numerous opportunities for faculty, staff and students to give back to the area community, and generating more and deeper connections between OHIO and the greater Southeast Ohio region.

The roots of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System date back to 1994 when Wayne National Forest officials first recommended the development of mountain bike trails on Forest land. The idea resurfaced sporadically over the years, but re-emerged with great enthusiasm in the summer of 2015 when Forest Supervisor Tony Scardina reached out to Athens City Council member Peter Kotses, owner of Athens Bicycle, a member of the Athens Bicycle Club and an OHIO alumnus.

In January 2016, Wayne National Forest officials and members of the Athens Bicycle Club convened a meeting to gauge interest in the project. Among those in attendance were a representative from the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), members of the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization (COMBO), Kotses and Danny Twilley, a member of the Athens Bicycle Club and a senior lecturer of recreation and sport pedagogy in OHIO's Patton College of Education Department of Recreation and Sport Pedagogy.

"I'll never forget the moment they laid down a map of the Wayne and showed us the area they were talking about," Dr. Twilley said about that initial meeting. "It's about 9,000 acres, has great access from Route 33 and touches these brilliant small communities -- and it's a blank slate. Andy Williamson (former IMBA Great Lakes regional director and current director of programs for IMBA) said he could think of no more than 10 locations in the country that have this type of access and size. It just doesn't happen."

A follow-up meeting, including local government officials, occurred in March and resulted in the formation of the Baileys Mountain Bike Working Group, spearheaded by members of the Athens Bicycle Club and charged with developing the trail concept. Composed of representatives from the Wayne National Forest, the Athens Bicycle Club and the Athens County Visitors Bureau as well as the Athens city and county planners, the working group meets monthly, often collaborating with other individuals and organizations in the community to continue developing the system. Its partners range from government entities that include the Athens City-County Health Department, the city of Nelsonville, the village of Chauncey and York Township to community organizations like Rural Action and ACEnet to interest groups such as IMBA and COMBO and businesses like OhioHealth.

"There's been a tremendous amount of public support for this project, and one of the big catalysts was those people early on and their level of energy in terms of what this trail system could be," explained Jason Reed, the Wayne National Forest's Athens District Ranger.

The working group moved forward, taking steps to map out the actual trail and crafting a larger vision for the project.

Dr. Twilley took the lead in drafting the request for proposal seeking a firm that could develop the trail design as well as a master plan while members of the Athens Bicycle Club, led by Kotses, worked to generate the approximately $40,000 needed to fund those efforts. Applied Trails Research, one of the top trail design firms in the country, was awarded the contract to design the trail system and craft the master plan.

In the spring of 2017, Applied Trails Research in partnership with Wayne National Forest and Athens Bicycle Club representatives conducted two community meetings to solicit input and address concerns from local residents. The firm then trained volunteers from the Athens Bicycle Club who spent approximately a week flagging the first 36 miles of the trail system and paving the way for it to be officially mapped.

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