© Courtesy of Athens County
On May 30, 2020, amid COVID-19 lockdowns, the trail officially opened to the public—bringing the first 14-miles of a new trail network, optimized for mountain bike (MTB) use, to Wayne National Forest in Southeast Ohio. At a time when outdoor activity was one of the few things we were “allowed” to do in lockdown, having somewhere new to explore was welcomed by those living nearby.
Interest grew as post-ride reports, videos, and photos were shared on social media, revealing the beauty of the terrain and the quality of the trails at Baileys Trail System. During its first season, as the pandemic dragged on, activity steadily increased, and more trails were built. By the end of the summer in 2020, on any given day, you could spot out-of-state plates on vehicles with bikes hanging off the back. Even West Virginians were leaving their state’s abundance of MTB trails to see what all the buzz was about in Athens County, Ohio.
Today, 31 miles of singletrack are complete in what will continue to expand into an 88-mile trail system, making it the largest continuous trail network east of the Mississippi River.
The Baileys Trail System’s location has the potential to continuously draw from the over one million mountain bikers living within 250 miles of Chauncey, Ohio, the system’s first trailhead town. Visit Athens County, the tourism bureau representing the home of Baileys Trail System, has capitalized on the development of outdoor recreation assets in the region. Specifically pertaining to cycling, bikeathensohio.com packages all the bike-related activities and locations for the region into one online location. Athens County does seem to have all the assets lining up: trails, roads, numerous gravel road routes, paved bikeways, and even a self-guided brewery tour along the bikeway.
While so much has been accomplished already, there is still quite a lot of work to be done—57 miles and a lot of funding to find. As some of the industry’s best builders and designers continue to blaze new trails, another organization, the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), continues to clear the way ahead, financially.
ORCA manages the development and operations of the Baileys Trail System in partnership with Wayne National Forest and the Athens Bicycle Club. They work to “advance asset-based sustainable economic development by securing public investments that unlock private investments, and activate key assets to deliver holistic community benefits.”
Acknowledging the challenges facing rural communities, their vision strives to enhance opportunities for small communities to grow local wealth in rural Appalachia. With various stakeholders at the table, plans are to increase collaboration across the region and evolve with its priorities. The current priority? To implement a regional strategy that will enhance Southeast Ohio’s outdoor recreation tourism. Baileys Trail System is part of this effort, but it’s just the beginning. Meanwhile, for all those involved—governments, organizations, partners, companies, communities, and volunteers—it is 31 miles down, 57 miles to go.
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Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau promotes the region as a destination for tourists, strengthens the Visit Athens Ohio brand locally and nationally, and creates economic development through the leisure, group, and business markets.