Rural Action CEO outlines economic development program connected to Baileys Trail

January 8 2020

By Conor Morris

Debbie Phillips, CEO of Rural Action, delivered a status update to the Athens County Commissioners Tuesday on a grant-funded economic development project connected to the Baileys Trail System in the Wayne National Forest.

Rural Action is the lead partner on a $1.235 million Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant that was awarded in October 2019. A small part of the grant, about $250,000, will go toward trail construction in the region, including $150,000 toward the Baileys Trail System, an under-construction 88-mile trail system in the Wayne National Forest with trailheads in Chauncey, Buchtel and Doanville. The Wayne National Forest is taking the lead on that part of the grant.

Phillips explained Tuesday that the economic development project is being taken on by several key local partners including the Athens-based Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Association, Athens High School’s internship program and the Wayne National Forest.

The main thrust of the grant-funded collaborative effort is to make sure that the Baileys Trail System has an impact far beyond just being the largest mountain-biking-optimized trail in the country east of the Mississippi River, Phillips said.

Phillips cited one recent example of a small-scale project supported by the grant funds: training sessions for local residents in communities near the Baileys Trail System on how to use the Airbnb short-term rental system and make money from those operations.

In the future, ACEnet plans to host “pop-up offices” in trail towns such as Doanville, Chauncey, Nelsonville and “some others,” as well as workshops in those towns, in order to walk residents through potential business plans.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Association as well as the Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau will work on two different sets of marketing plans. One of those plans, Phillips explained, is focused on drawing visitors to the area from bigger cities, and the other is focused on a “main event plus five” campaign, aimed at bringing people to the region for “one big event” plus five other smaller attractions, such as restaurants or local parks.

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