A bevy of elected officials gathered at the Eclipse Company Store in The Plains on Thursday for the presentation of a $182,163 check to fund improvements to the county bike path and make it more accessible.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which administers the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, has approved grant proposals for trail projects across the state that will help and revitalize communities, stated a press release.
ODNR awarded 30 Clean Ohio Trails Fund grants for community projects that build and maintain infrastructure that allows citizens to conveniently connect to nature, it said. These projects reportedly complete regional trail systems and connections to statewide trails, as well as link population centers with outdoor recreation areas and facilities. The funds are also supposed to preserve natural corridors and link urban areas to support commuter access and provide economic benefits.
In Athens, the funds will go toward the construction of .79 mile of asphalt-paved bikeway to connect the existing Hockhocking Adena Bikeway with Athens High School and the unincorporated area of The Plains.
State Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Albany, and state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, were on hand for the announcement, along with Athens County Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Mark Sullivan, and County Planner Bob Eichenberg.
ODNR Director Sean Logan presented the check Thursday. He said that his charge as director has been to find ways to connect children with the outdoors and to promote the wise use and conservation of the state's natural resources.
"Certainly, being able to connect outdoor recreation amenities with local communities is something that is absolutely wise and a very good conservative approach to dealing with conservation as well," he said. "Tax dollars are coming back and being invested in the community."
Logan said he also has been directed to work with local officials as much as possible, and he has made it a point to do so. He said he was impressed with the work of local officials and trail advocates in Athens County.
"I really commend you for having the vision that you do for the regional approach that you have," Logan said.
Rep. Phillips said the project will enhance the quality of life in Athens County.
"The ability for more students to bike or walk safely to and from school, and the opportunity for more residents to easily use the bike path will help promote healthy and fun activities," she said. "I hope more people will discover the beauty and calm of the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, and I applaud the state's investment in our region."
The existing Hockhocking Adena Bikeway runs from the city of Athens to the city of Nelsonville and bypasses The Plains and the Athens High School. Phillips said the new spur will provide a safe way for students to commute to and from school and for residents of The Plains to access the bikeway.
The Clean Ohio Trails Fund is one of four components of the Clean Ohio Fund that restores, protects and connects Ohio's natural and urban places. Ohioans approved the establishment of the $400 million bond program in 2000, and it was a critical component of the 2008 Ohio Bipartisan Job Stimulus Plan. Voters approved an extension of the Clean Ohio Fund in 2008.
Commissioner Eliason said Thursday that the bike path is the top tourist attraction in the county, and any opportunity to expand it is a good thing.
He said he had talked to the commissioners of Washington County about possibly further connecting the bikeway between the counties. He told those in attendance to be prepared for the county to put in another grant application to make this possible.
"The fact that we got this grant is important," Eliason said. "It is a nice spur. We've had this spur in Nelsonville, to get it downtown. To get this spur to the (Athens) high school is another advantage."
He said officials have been working on securing old bridges and rights-of-way so the bikeway can eventually stretch across the county and be accessible from many different points.
"If we expand the bike path, we not only expand people's chances to stay healthy and work but we also expand our tourist attraction," he said. "That's the alternative economic development formula that we all want."
Logan said that there isn't a definite timeframe for construction of the new path connectors, but the funds are assured and will start to come soon.
For more information on these grants and other state programs administered under ODNR, visit the agency's website at www.ohiodnr.com.