By Cole Behrens
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
State legislators, local politicians and dozens of members of the Athens County community met at The Baileys Trail System trailhead in Chauncey on Thursday to celebrate the inclusion of $2 million into the recently passed state budget for development at The Wayne National Forest.
The funds will be used to continue work on one of the largest mountain biking trails in the eastern United States.
State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, championed the funding in the biennial state budget bill.
People are often too fixated on the negative news in Athens County, and the Baileys Trail System is an example of something positive that happened when everyone in Athens County worked together, Edwards said in his remarks at the event.
“It was the most unselfish thing I ever worked on,” Edwards said of the bipartisan process behind his funding drive in the statehouse. “What a great opportunity for us to all come together — start to finish.”
The speakers commended local officials — including Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, township trustees, and the Athens County Commissioners — for focusing on the greater good and their encouragement during the process.
“This project is a classic example of state and local leadership, as well as public and private funds, coming together,” said state Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark. “Appalachia succeeds when we are all rowing together.”
Hottinger said he was deluged with phone calls from Edwards and other stakeholders after the Ohio Senate stripped the $2 million from its version of the budget. Those calls led him to work with Edwards to get the appropriation back into the final budget bill.
That wouldn’t have happened, said Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, without the “overwhelming support of locals.”
The money allocated to Baileys Trail is the “tip of the iceberg” of what is in store for the trail system, Edwards said. He said he has spoken to local business leaders, who told him about the positive changes the trail system could have on the local economy.
“They tell me how big an asset The Baileys Trail System is going to have on people and people that want to uproot their families and come here because there is something for them to do,” Edwards said. “How great is that?”
Jessie Powers, director of the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, said the state’s investment will benefit all of southeast Ohio. She said the trails, based on projections, could bring hundreds of jobs and attract thousands of tourists.
Powers thanked other state legislators who worked with ORCA on the budget bill but who were unable to attend Thursday’s celebration, including state Sens. Jim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, and Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction.
“This project is a testament to the power of engaged citizens, proactive leadership, and responsive representation in Columbus,” Powers said.
Peterson also promised those in attendance that following the speeches, Edwards and Hottinger would have a bicycle race on the trail — which never materialized, to the chagrin of The Athens NEWS reporter.