Home City City Council unanimously votes to allocate money for the Baileys Trail System

City Council unanimously votes to allocate money for the Baileys Trail System

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City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve controversial funding for the Baileys Trail System, located in Athens County, after several months of debate and changes to the bill’s language.

The city has now agreed to pay $90,000 per year to the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA) over 20 years, with the potential of that sum increasing if an evaluation of the project after five years demonstrates that the trail system has generated more success for the region that initially anticipated. 

In 2017, Quantified Ventures, the capital firm behind the project, selected the Baileys Trail System to be the first outdoor recreational trail financed with a “Pay for Success” model. In this model, private investors partially finance the project to lessen the financial risk for Athens city and Athens County.

Construction of the Baileys — planned to be 88-miles of mountain-biking-optimized trails —  broke ground in September, according to a previous report by The New Political.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson spoke in favor of the legislation. He said the plan piqued his interest from the very beginning, and he saw possibilities for increases in outdoor recreation and economic development.

“I see this as a regional asset, not something that will just benefit the city of Athens,” Patterson said. “But I also see this as something that is desperately needed in southeast Ohio right now.”

He also said he hopes to see the Hocking riverfront trail fall under ORCA in the future, to figure out how to use the asset more effectively.

“On the Athens County end of things, I think there are opportunities in the future with the Baileys being essentially the crown jewel of things as we take a look at other recreational activities throughout our county to make ourselves stronger,” Patterson said.

“This is historic,” City Council President Chris Knisely said amidst the uproarious applause from the citizens in attendance — all of whom had apparently attended the meeting to show support for the legislation, as Knisely put it. Immediately following the funding measure’s passage, most of the crowd left, leaving only a small handful of citizens and reporters in the seats.

Councilmember Jeffrey Risner, the primary sponsor of the legislation, said this ordinance was unique in the public interest it garnered, adding that he has never seen anything like it in his tenure on City Council.

“We’ve had other controversies before, but not quite like this,” Risner said. 

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Councilmember Patrick McGee, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said he has always thought the plan was great for the community, despite his apprehensions with advancing the project under private supervision.

“I think it’s wonderful — I hope it brings prosperity to Athens and Chauncey and our communities and our county, because we certainly need something like that,” McGee said. “My concern has been through the whole process whether this should proceed through private funding rather than the city of Athens.”

He also expressed concern that the numbers presented may only serve to further confuse the reality of the project, and that some of the figures presented to the Athens city government may have been inflated.

Despite this, he ultimately said the plan had good prospects for success.

“I am of the opinion that this is still a very good possibility,” McGee said. “I think it’s worth planting seeds of this tree, and even if we take a loss for a little, I think it will be worth it in the long run, at least I hope so.”

Councilmember Chris Fahl also noted her “cynicism” throughout the process. Fahl said her largest criticism was of the leadership that has been involved in the Baileys in the past. She said she wants the process of City Council receiving information streamlined and improved so that the city is still in the loop with the project.

“I think we need to identify areas the city can do better in, with providing liaison and being able to follow a long-term project like this,” Fahl said. “[The project directors] have been working on this long-term project for two years — it comes to council and all of a sudden we have to become specialists.”

She also said the city does not typically enter 20-year contracts, except with the water treatment facility. She also urged Debbie Phillips, CEO of Rural Action, to be given a more prominent role in ORCA leadership.

Kent Butler expressed continued support for the project. He also stressed the potential health benefits the trail system could offer.

“I’m excited about moving forward and progressing,” Butler said. “I think there’s factors that aren’t always measurable, and I think health and wellness can’t be measured to the Nth degree.” 

Councilmember Samuel Crowl said the recent tour given to City Council at the Baileys Trail was key in his understanding of the project.

“Hearing the people actually run the rails, work on the trails and hear how they develop them … all of these things together, I’m excited to be a part of it,” Crowl said.

Seth Brown, director of forestry and land use at Quantified Ventures, was present at the meeting. After the unanimous council vote, Brown and Patterson shook hands, and Brown departed.

Editor’s note: A version of this story will appear in The Athens NEWS.

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