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How the coronavirus pandemic will impact the Baileys Trail System

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Baileys Trail trailhead in Chauncey.

The timeline for completing the Baileys Trail System — 88 miles of mountain-bike optimized trail in Athens County — will be disrupted because of the resounding economic impacts caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Baileys Trail faced roadblocks with acquiring the remaining $3.6 million needed to complete the trail before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, anticipated funding sources at the local and state level have become uncertain as governments reassess their financial capabilities.

In the original funding plan for the Baileys Trail, the city of Athens and Athens County were both asked to pay a minimum of $90,000 per year for 20 years. Now, the city and county’s budgets are suffering from a loss of revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amy Renner, mayor of Chauncey and vice chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA), explained that acquiring funding has slowed down trail completion for the Baileys Trail.

“The biggest thing that’s holding up the project is funding, which has always been a problem for us, before coronavirus,” Renner said in a phone interview. “It’s just a matter of restrategizing how we’re asking for those funds and who we’re asking for funds from.”

Athens County and the city of Athens have made no payments toward the trail. In December, the city approved an ordinance to enter into the financial commitment with ORCA. The ordinance stipulated that for the city to authorize funding, Athens County must commit an equal amount of financial support.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Athens County had not passed a long-term financial commitment to funding the Baileys Trail. The Athens County Commissioners had discussed making a one-time payment of $90,000 toward the project.

Dawn McCarthy, a public relations officer at the Wayne National Forest, said in a recent ORCA meeting, the additional $90,000 would allow seven miles of trail construction.  

Chris Chmiel, an Athens County commissioner, said in a phone interview that one-time payment is in question, however, due to a possible 20% budget cut to Athens County. 

Lenny Eliason, president of Athens County Commissioners, said with loss of revenue from sources like sales tax and casinos, county-funded projects may be delayed.

“There’s the potential that optional things, projects for improvement and things like that, may get pushed back,” Eliason said. “So, we’ll have to wait and see.” 

He said Athens County sales tax revenue was down 10.5% for March.

“A one-month drop in that magnitude is not necessarily a problem, but we really think it’s going to be several months of at least that amount, if not more,” Eliason said.

Eliason said sales tax revenue was projected to drop by 20% for April based on information from the Ohio Department of Taxation.  

Although no casinos are located in Athens County, the county receives revenue from casinos in Ohio due to the Ohio Constitution. Casinos were closed indefinitely March 13.

The Ohio Constitution levies a 33% state tax on casino revenue. From that revenue, 51% is distributed across the 88 Ohio counties in proportion to population and 34% is distributed to public school districts across the state.

Eliason said Athens County is predicted to receive $784,000 in casino revenue this year, down from $808,948 in 2019.

“That’s really our biggest concern: what the long-term revenue impacts are going to be for us, how quickly our economy will recover from it and how quickly it will grow back to where it’s been,” Eliason said.

Chmiel said he is looking for ways Athens County can finance the $90,000 one-time payment through the help of community partners such as philanthropic organizations, businesses and government entities.

In the future, he said, the county may return to evaluating a long-term funding option after Athens has recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Baileys Trail was also seeking funding from the Ohio Capital Budget. Renner and Steve Patterson, mayor of Athens and chair of ORCA, do not expect the funding request to be fulfilled.

“We had really gotten our legislature energized about the project, and now with COVID, it’s really hitting the state’s budget hard,” Renner said. “I really doubt that request will come to fruition now.” 

Renner said the state budget request had been left open, but $1 million could complete Phase 2 of trail construction.

Patterson said in a phone interview he assumed the budget request for the Baileys Trail was “a long shot now given everything else that’s going on.” 

Patterson said funding for other local projects has become uncertain, such as the Stimson Avenue Improvement project. The Stimson Avenue project would have improved the road, sidewalks and utilities along Stimson Avenue. 

Patterson said a portion of the state-funding has been put on hold indefinitely. The Ohio Public Works Commission would have been allotted $800,000 in grants and loans to the Stimson Avenue project, according to Patterson.

“We needed that $800,000 to really kind of move this project forward,” he said. “That whole project overall could be in jeopardy, to where it may not happen.”

Seth Brown, a director of forestry and land use at Quantified Ventures, said he is optimistic that the Baileys Trail could receive federal funding through coronavirus relief packages. 

“What is nice is this is a shovel-ready project that we believe will produce economic benefit and create jobs, and governments of every single level will be looking for those opportunities, so that’s exciting” Brown said in a phone interview.

However, Brown said no infrastructure stimulus package has been proposed to Congress that would ensure funding for the Baileys Trail.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted ongoing work on the trails, which McCarthy explained in an email. 

The trail was scheduled to be open April 15, McCarthy said in the recent ORCA meeting.

McCarthy explained the opening for the first 14 completed miles of trail is delayed indefinitely following federal guidelines and the Ohio stay-at-home order.

While the first 14 miles are complete, trail builders have “several improvements or corrections” to complete before the official trail opening. Because of the Ohio stay-at-home order, McCarthy said out-of-state builders were asked to “delay work until it is safe to continue normal operations.”

Renner said the trail opening would have focused on Chauncey. The trailhead for the completed miles is located at Chauncey-Dover Community Park. 

“It was going to be a catalyst for involving the Chauncey residents in the trail more, for them to see what’s done so far and just try to get everybody excited about the project,” Renner said. “That’s been postponed indefinitely for now, so that’s kind of a bummer.”

ORCA is scheduled to meet via video conference May 8 to continue work on the Baileys.

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