Commissioners tour Baileys trailhead, with long-term funding in doubt

February 20, 2020

By Conor Morris

The Athens County Commissioners on Tuesday visited the trailhead in Chauncey for the first part of the Baileys Trail System construction in the Wayne National Forest, even as two of the Commissioners said last week that they’re not going to support the “pay for success” model that has been asked of the county for the project.

Commissioners Chris Chmiel and Charlie Adkins said in interviews last week that they will not support the same financial model that Athens City Council approved in November to fund the Baileys Trail System, which includes an agreement to pay $90,000 per year for the next 20 years, or more depending on whether the project is more successful.

The decision from the Commissioners puts into question City Council’s agreement, which includes a clause that says that the city’s $90,000 per year contribution is contingent upon the county Commissioners agreeing to the same level of support.

Still, Chmiel and Adkins made it clear that they do support the project, and have earmarked $90,000 in this year’s county budget to help fund continued construction on the trail system, which so far has about 14 miles of trail in the Wayne National Forest, with its main trailhead in Chauncey.

Chmiel said this week that he hopes that City Council at least will agree to match that $90,000 for this year, so trail construction can continue.

Adkins said in an interview last week that he still has a lot of questions that haven’t been answered about the Baileys project.

ATHENS CITY COUNCIL voted unanimously in early November to enter into a contract with the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA) to pay $90,000 or more annually over the next 20 years to fund the Baileys Trail System. Project supporters have billed the 88-mile mountain-bike (and other non-motorized uses) trail system as the greatest hope for economic development in Athens County in many years, with some estimates from project planners suggesting as much as 180,000 new visitors per year for the trail system.

When meeting with Wayne National Forest officials prior to the hike on Tuesday, Adkins told WNF spokesperson Dawn McCarthy that he has a “hard time wrapping his brain around” that 180,000 number.

McCarthy acknowledged that that she, too, was initially skeptical about that number. However, she added, “We also think that the amount of economic value for the trails was being understated in that same feasibility study. Because I’ve seen (information suggesting) where 50,000 people (visiting) seems to bring in just as much money. I don’t know that 180,000 (visitors) is the thing to get all fixated on.”

McCarthy explained that the first 14 miles of trails completed so far are open to the public for hiking but not for biking (there should be an opening event for the community in Chauncey in late May this year, with a larger grand opening event planned next fall for the whole Chauncey-Dover Park). McCarthy added that there’s another project in the works that’s set to renovate that park, adding a central shelter house/stage, bathrooms and other amenities.

McCarthy added that if City Council agrees to match the Commissioners with $90,000 in funds this year, that “should be enough” to help complete “Phase 2” of the project, which proposes to extend the trail system to about 31 miles (out of 88 total).

Adkins during the trail meeting said he recently spoke with a local motel/hotel group, who told him the group’s members are not interested in raising bed tax rates to help pay for the project. That group also apparently told Adkins that the hotels and motels in the area are already “at capacity,” and would have trouble finding space for Baileys visitors.

McCarthy countered that many of the visitors likely would come during the summer months, when most Ohio University students are out of town and business lags. She added that OU’s declining enrollment in recent years likely will translate into more openings for local hotels/motels.