Ohio’s state budget for 2022–24 includes $2 million for the Baileys Trail System — bringing the project closer to its goal of becoming the longest contiguous trail system east of the Mississippi River.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed the budget bill early Thursday morning. State Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) helped insert an earmark for the trail system into the Ohio House of Representatives version of the bill; the Ohio Senate removed it in its version of the legislation, but the earmark was restored in the conference committee that crafted the version sent to the governor.
"It will be a boon to Southeast Ohio tourism, and I am delighted to see such significant funds go towards this trail system," Edwards said in a statement. "Upon completion, the Baileys Trail System will be one of the longest in the eastern United States, and I am confident it will have positive regional impacts in Appalachian Ohio.”
Developers have completed roughly 30 miles of the planned 88 miles of mountain biking trail. Local leaders estimate the earmark will help finance another 30 miles of trail.
The system, with its prime trailhead located in Chauncey, was billed with the potential to facilitate economic development in and around Athens County, with the hope that such a novel attraction could beckon tourists to visit and spend money at local businesses while in town.
The project's advocates anticipate it will make way for $40 million in increased spending across the region over 10 years, create 78 new jobs, retain 150 jobs, and facilitate $10 million in new wage growth, according to a news release.
“I’m looking forward to the completion of Baileys Trail System in Athens County,” DeWine said in a statement. “With miles and miles to explore, southeast Ohio will have another family-friendly and adventure-worthy destination for visitors. I expect this trail will encourage growth for the region and invite more people to our state.”
Some Athens County and city officials, however, have remained skeptical of those promises, preventing the trail's proponents from reaching a deal to finance the project with local tax funds. The leaders’ failure to reach an agreement up to this point forced the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), which manages the project, to raise money for construction primarily through state and federal grants, as well as smaller sources like crowdfunding.
ORCA Director Jessie Powers previously said the funding would allow the trail system to quickly attain a prestigious “destination-worthy” designation from the International Mountain Biking Association.
“State of Ohio support for our sustainable outdoor recreation development efforts is an honor, one that signifies the value of Baileys Trail System, and how strategic state and local government investments can equip rural communities with tools to improve economies, health, the environment, and Ohio’s vibrancy,” she said in a statement.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, a Democrat, commended Edwards’ efforts to secure funding in the budget and said the money should prove critical in financing its construction moving forward.
“(It’s) wonderful news for Athens County, and really that’s wonderful news for southeast Ohio because I truly believe at the end of the day the Baileys Trail System, when it’s fully developed, will be a significant tourism driver which also lends itself to economic development,” he said.
The budget also includes $100,000 each fiscal year for Ohio University and other rural state institutions of higher education to promote economic development, public administration and public health services in the region.
OU spokesperson Jim Sabin said the funding will go to the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service to support the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress, an organization of Ohio mayors led by Patterson.
“The Voinovich School has been a wonderful partner for the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress and has been for many years,” Patterson said. “The Partnership is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and we’re certainly pleased that the University is going to retain its funding for the Rural Universities Program.”
Southeast Ohioans can also anticipate from the budget $250 million for broadband expansion, $10 million for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and $2.5 million for the Appalachian Children’s Coalition.
Also included is clause to eliminate income tax for those who make less than $25,000 each year, and an even larger tax cut for the wealthy.