OHIO faculty, staff, students among community group developing trails committed to area’s physical, economic and cultural well-being
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.
BUILDING THE BAILEYS TEAM
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.
LAYING THE GROUND WORK
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.
This map provides an overview of the 88-mile, single-track Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System. The trails will be available to mountain bikers of all skills levels as well as hikers, trail runners and nature watchers. The portion of the trail closest to the village of Chauncey is designed to be ADA accessible.
In developing the master plan for the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System, those involved began establishing goals for the project that stretched far beyond physically constructing a trail and envisioned a means of nourishing the area’s physical, economic, social and cultural well-being. Three over-arching goals were agreed upon for the project:
- Create a new recreation area with a focus on sustainable economic development in order to enrich the communities that surround the trail
- Decrease barriers that prevent community members’ physical activity in the outdoors in order to improve health and wellness
- Establish community connections to create a new resource for community pride
“We realize that we have the potential for something special here that could really benefit the local communities,” explained Dawn McCarthy, a recreation team leader for the Wayne National Forest and an Ohio University graduate. “Athens County is still a distressed county, and this project has the potential to help provide a sustainable solution to those challenges, providing easy access to the communities it touches, which could lead to greater physical activity and help address some of the health issues prevalent in the region, all while providing opportunities for sustainable economic growth – efforts that will help lift up these communities and our local residents.”
When project stakeholders met on the Athens Campus in January, Dr. Twilley presented research on mountain biking initiatives that have occurred within the United States. The research he presented showed an increase in tourism and tourist spending, which results in an increase in business development and a greater change of attracting new businesses; an increase in exercise and physical activity; and an overall positive influence on the community – all as the result of mountain biking initiatives.
“I have seen this type of development work in other parts of the country,” said Dr. Twilley. “Is this the magic bullet that will solve all of our problems? Absolutely not. Is this a good piece to the puzzle? I believe it absolutely is because I’ve seen it.”
It is the potential of the project that propelled Dr. Twilley to represent Ohio University on the Baileys Mountain Bike Working Group.
“My involvement in this project is both personal, as a recreator and an Athens Bicycle Club member, and professional,” Dr. Twilley said. “Professionally, this project speaks to me as a faculty member since one of our tenets is service and using our expertise and knowledge to enhance the profession and the community, and, more specifically, as a faculty member in the Patton College of Education where our mantra is ‘CALLED to Lead.’ It also speaks to me in regards to the strategic pathways President Nellis outlined at his Investiture where he called for us to build a University engagement ecosystem and reminded us of our responsibility to help lift up this region. When I heard that, I automatically thought of this project.”
“Dr. Twilley’s contributions to this project show his dedication to his profession and our local community. His grit and determination to help move this project forward are an inspiration to our college,” said Renée A. Middleton, dean of the Patton College of Education. “Part of the Patton College’s core values is serving society responsibly as change agents in meeting diverse human and social needs. We encourage our faculty and students to engage in strategic community outreach and engagement and to learn about our surrounding community. Athens is made up of much more than the University, and the more our faculty and students can learn and give back to our region, the more they understand the importance of lifelong learning and changing their world for the better.”
AN ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIP EMERGES
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), federal agencies must conduct an environmental analysis before undertaking any ground-disturbing activities, examining everything from heritage resources to rare plants and threatened and endangered species to hydrological and soil impacts.
“What we want to do is eliminate or mitigate any significant environmental effects of the proposed project,” Reed explained.
At the same time that the Baileys Mountain Bike Working Group was fleshing out the project, Wayne National Forest Supervisor Tony Scardina and OHIO College of Arts and Sciences Dean Bob Frank were discussing ways for additional engagement between the two entities and college faculty and staff were having internal conversations.
“We convened a larger group of members of Ohio University who wanted to be involved as well as those who were already doing research and had relationships with the Wayne,” explained Lisa Cohen, director of external relations for the college. “We came together to prioritize areas of mutual importance with the Wayne and Ohio University and, in particular, focusing on wildlife conservation and the Forest, water, recreation and heritage.”
One of the outcomes of the partnership was the creation of the college’s first formal, and paid, internship program with the Wayne National Forest. Six Ohio University students – Kyle Brooks, Devon Cottrill, Sam Heckle, Zachary Matthews, Emily Penn and Trevor Somogyi – spent this past summer conducting the field surveys on the first 36 miles (Phase I) of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System. The interns documented animal, plant and archaeological resources along the trail under the guidance of Wayne National Forest specialists Ann Cramer, archaeologist; Lynda Andrews, wildlife biologist; and Jeffery Rebitzke, botanist; and Ohio University faculty members Harvey Ballard, a professor of environmental and plant biology; Paul Patton, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology; and Viorel Popescu, an assistant professor of conservation biology.
For Dr. Popescu, involvement in the internship program meant an opportunity to work with his students out in the field while also enriching his own research and the professional relationships he had already established with representatives from the Wayne National Forest.
“I knew this was going to be an amazing opportunity for our students, and I really wanted to be more involved in providing my students with training and mentorship,” Dr. Popescu said. “And, it was a natural extension of the research I was already doing on the Wayne. I was already working with Lynda Andrews. She was the first person that I contacted when I started teaching at Ohio University. The folks at the Wayne have been very, very supportive of all the work that is going on in my lab.”
In his role as co-advisor of the wildlife biology interns, Dr. Popescu helped identify qualified candidates for the positions and then assisted in supervising the interns throughout the assessment process. He and the students worked with Andrews to pinpoint which species the Wayne National Forest was interested in monitoring and then tested different methods of monitoring those species, which ranged from looking under rocks for salamanders to hanging traps for bees to survey pollinators. Dr. Popescu was also instrumental in reviewing the students’ findings, looking over their notes and reports.
Among the students’ noteworthy discoveries were two new populations of blue corporals, a state-endangered dragonfly; a nesting pair of brown creepers, the southernmost evidence of breeding by this bird species in Ohio; several regional forester sensitive plant species; and two archaeological sites. Their work resulted in the elimination of some of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trails and the relocation of other parts. (To read more about the interns’ experience, including one of the student’s blog, click here.)
“Those students were top-notch,” Reed said of the interns. “They provided a lot of very, very good and very professional data. I sat in on their presentations at the end of the session, and I was blown away.”
“They probably accelerated this project by a year,” added Dr. McCarthy.
The learning opportunities this project has provided to College of Arts and Sciences’ students continues today as students in Dr. Patton’s courses and labs work with the archaeological finds made last summer. And, the experiential learning will continue next summer when the Wayne National Forest offers even more students the opportunity to help assess the remaining 57 miles of the trail system.
“Both the Wayne National Forest and Zaleski State Forest offer a natural, open-air lab where we can conduct all sorts of research and engage in educational opportunities,” Dr. Popescu said, noting the research he and his students have been conducting in the Wayne on Ohio’s bobcat population as well as the effects the Nelsonville bypass has had on box turtles in the area. “It’s been a blessing having this natural lab, combined with the tremendous support we receive from the Wayne, right here in our backyard. It provides an opportunity to study not only the wildlife side of things, but also the cultural side and the social side of forest management and resources and how it all ties into the sustainability of the area.”
The six Ohio University students selected for the summer 2017 internship program at the Wayne National Forest pose for a photo with the Wayne National Forest specialists and OHIO faculty members who advised them throughout the process. Photo courtesy the Wayne National Forest
“The Wayne National Forest has been an amazing partner, and its staff truly has the students’ educational and experiential learning in mind as they pursue their overall objectives,” said Cohen. “It’s been an honor to help connect partners, students and faculty for these very rewarding and transformational opportunities, and for those of us who are involved there is a sense of community and a sense of pride in helping something great to be possible.”
“It has been a goal to work more closely with the Wayne National Forest,” said Dean Frank. “Finding a way to meet that goal in a way that engages our students and our faculty, that serves the needs identified by our partners and that positively impacts our community makes the process and the outcome of our work all the more meaningful.”
OTHER OHIO OUTREACH
The number of Ohio University colleges and offices lending a hand in the development of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System continues to grow as the project moves forward.
“We wouldn’t be where we are with the Baileys project without Ohio University,” Reed said. “The University has been able to provide much-needed support at a much-needed time.”
Most recently, Wayne National Forest representatives met with Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth to discuss the possibility of collaborating on efforts to promote and market the trail system, which could result in more internship opportunities for OHIO students.
Efforts to promote the project are already underway, thanks to the work of Ben Siegel, the photography supervisor at Ohio University Communications and Marketing (UCM) who has been filming and editing a short promotional video.
According to Siegel, he’s been documenting the process behind the trail system’s development, capturing mountain biking and Wayne National Forest footage and interviewing members of the community who have been instrumental in moving the project forward. The final video, he said, is the result of a large collaboration and include footage provided by OHIO students and alumni, UCM and the Wayne National Forest.
“My family and I use the trails at Sells Park on a weekly basis, and I fully appreciate the way that resource has contributed to our quality of life and our love of this community,” said Siegel. “It’s a privilege to be able to share my skillset in a way that will help provide similar experiences to others in this community and to future generations.”
OHIO’s College of Business is also preparing to lend its skillset to the project.
According to Drs. McCarthy and Twilley, discussions are underway with representatives from the college’s Sports Administration program about plans to conduct a baseline economic impact study to determine the economic impact of the mountain bike trails currently available in and around Athens. That study will allow the future economic impact of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System to be more accurately determined.
“I don’t know of any study that has done that, especially around outdoor recreation and trail development, that incorporates baseline economic impact data,” said Dr. Twilley. “This could give us a really good and accurate story to tell about the economic impact of trail development.”
With Phase I of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System mapped and environmentally analyzed and plans set for the mapping and assessing of Phase II, discussions are shifting to funding the project.
The entire cost of the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System is estimated at between $4 million and $6 million, which would include trail-related improvements in some of the communities the trail touches – the creation of a trailhead and parking lot in Chauncey, for example. And while those behind the project originally envisioned the trail being constructed in phases as funding was secured, a new method of funding that would allow the entire trail to be built all at once has emerged and is being explored.
On Jan. 24, members of the Baileys Mountain Bike Working Group along with numerous other community and University stakeholders and representatives from Ohio’s state and federal lawmakers’ offices met on the Athens Campus. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of the project while also introducing Quantified Ventures, a social impact venture capital firm based in Washington, D.C.
Quantified Ventures designs and structures “Pay for Success” transactions. Under “Pay for Success,” private investors provide upfront capital for projects that have a social impact with the understanding that a payor, a public agency or private institution that benefits from the project, will repay the investors based on achievement of agreed-upon outcomes of the project.
The National Forest Foundation contracted with Quantified Ventures to determine if the “Pay for Success” financing model could be applied to recreational infrastructure. Quantified Ventures selected the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System over more than 10 other national forest projects for a study that will assess the feasibility of using “Pay for Success” to fund the trail system.
Seth Brown, a senior associate at Quantified Ventures, told the group that the firm selected the project they believed had the greatest potential.
“I believe this project will get funded,” he said. “This has been a great, great collective effort. I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of community investment. I hope you know that you are something special.”
If Quantified Ventures determines that the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System project is viable for “Pay for Success,” it could result in a potential $6 million investment in the project, which Reed said would serve as a “gateway into Wayne National Forest and Southeast Ohio.”
Seth Brown, senior associate at Quantified Ventures, outlines the “Pay for Success” funding model during a stakeholders meeting Jan. 24 in Ohio University’s Grover Center. Photo by Ben Siegel
“Our goal isn’t just to build trails,” Dr. Twilley said, noting that the trails are a means for achieving the project’s other goals and will result in real, tangible outcomes.
He pointed to Oakridge, Oregon, a former timber community that invested in mountain bike trails and today brings in $2.35 million to $4.91 million annually in mountain bike tourism spending. The Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System combined with the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway and the other area trails, all of the organizers have said, will position Athens County to be recognized as an IMBA ride center, one of only three such premier mountain biking destinations in the region.
“I can’t think of anything else on the East Coast that has this kind mileage and that’s this accessible,” Kotses said at the January meeting.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
“Most people we tell about this project can’t believe how quickly we’re moving ahead with it,” Dr. Twilley said. “I think that’s because this is a community-driven project that has great support from the Forest Service. We have the right people at the right time with the right motivation to make it happen.”
Dr. Twilley and the Wayne National Forest officials said anyone interested in getting involved in or supporting the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System is welcome to contact them directly, noting that the project needs both cheerleaders who spread the word about the project and champions who lend their expertise to it.
Athens District Ranger Reed noted that once the trail is built, assistance and input will be needed in finding ways to further connect the trail to the communities it touches and for individuals and businesses in those communities to benefit from it.
“We’ll need to be thinking about that and what this could mean for those areas,” Reed said, adding, “we just want to publicly say thanks to every single person who has been and will be involved in this project.”
“They’ve all been critical pieces,” added Dr. McCarthy. “That’s the only way this project has been able to move forward so quickly and why the project remains strong.”
“This project isn’t going to be the result of any one person,” Dr. Twilley said. “It’s a collective community that I just can’t stress how fortunate I feel to be a part of.”