Members of Athens City Council met with leaders of the Baileys Trail System project last Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Chauncey-Dover Community Park, the site of the system’s Chauncey trailhead, to hike a newly built portion of the trail.
The visit came five days before Athens City Council voted Monday evening to commit a significant amount of financial support to the project – $90,000 per year for the next 20 years. (See story in this issue.) Under the ordinance as drafted, that total could potentially increase if the project performs better than expected, although the city can choose to end that financial support early. The County Commissioners are considering allocating a similar amount of financial support, though it’s unsure when they’ll take a vote on that issue.
City Council member Sam Crowl said last Wednesday that his understanding of the trail was greatly enhanced by the hike.
“We’ve been calling this a mountain bike trail system for a long time... but it’s not just that,” Crowl said. “It’s trails. Whether you’re a birder, or a hiker, or a mountain biker or just want to get away into the hills. It’s for everybody.”
Construction of the Baileys – planned as 88 miles of trails optimized for mountain biking but also for other non-motorized uses – broke ground in September, according to a previous report by The New Political.
At the beginning of the meeting, hikers enjoyed hearty “Baileys cookies,” and some wore neon vests while traversing the wooded area so that hunters wouldn’t mistake them for game. During hunting season, some hunters look for game on the Baileys tract of land, which is located on the sprawling Wayne National Forest.
Currently, to enter the trail, which is composed of soft clay soil, one must cross a creek on a wooden plank. Because of recent rains, hikers stepped carefully through the steep and muddy pathway, and trundled up a steep incline, with The New Political reporters being woefully underdressed for a romp through the woods.
According to Jeremy Wimpey, a representative of Applied Trails Research, an outdoor recreation firm, three crews are working on the trail, and he estimated 25 workers are involved.
Wimpey confirmed that community members have begun to use the trail. The trail builders also employ cyclists to test the trail’s quality. The portion of the trail starting from the community park will be designed to accommodate even entry-level cyclists and hikers.
Because of the Baileys Trail System, Chauncey has received funding from nonprofit organizations to create a spacious trailhead that can accommodate a large number of visitors.
The trail by the park is repurposed mining land. Athens County Planner Jesse Powers said that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources donated to Chauncey’s bike spur project, another trail project in the area, because they are repurposing the land.
One improvement to the park will involve creating a proper entrance into its parking lot. There is no “legal access point” to the Chauncey-Dover Community Park, according to Powers. To enter the park, one must take a sharp turn (left coming from Chauncey) from Ohio Rt. 13 onto West Bailey Road – next to railroad tracks – and drive on railroad property.
The New Political reporters observed the construction underway on the Baileys Trail System. Contractors using small excavator equipment dug away in the distance, and workers raked newly fallen leaves while the hiking party stopped to hear about the construction process.
The section of the trail toured was a portion of the “green trail,” or a trail for beginners that includes more gentle incline grades and a wider path than the more planned additions to the trail that feature more difficult terrain and trail conditions.
KEES VAN WEEL, A CHAUNCEY citizen and retired engineering technician for the Wayne National Forest, was walking his three dogs to the trail as the tour of the hike ended. He took the opportunity to express his displeasure with the project to the stakeholders involved with the planning and execution of the trail system.
“Thirteen years I’ve been walking along here, haven’t seen a mountain bike,” he said, though he then recalled seeing one “when there were roads and trails back up in here…
“Now you guys are in here making bicycle trails,” he told the stakeholders.
Van Weel said he frequently walks through the Baileys tract of land with his dogs. He expressed skepticism about glowing predictions about the trail system’s future popularity.
“We’ve seen too many things like this, expecting people to show up, and then in about five years the newness is gone and away you go,” he said.
Cole Behrens of The New Political contributed to this report.