Ringed by miles of abandoned coal mines, the Wayne National Forest is surrounded by some of the most economically distressed communities in southern Ohio. A unique partnership with private investors, local leaders, a university, and nonprofit partners is helping to change that.
The Forest Service is working with the National Forest Foundation and Quantified Ventures to explore how an innovative finance mechanism can support an 88-mile multiuse trail on 9,000 acres of national forest land in Athens County.
Dubbed the Baileys Trail System, the project will serve as a case study for the Forest Service to assess the potential for funding deferred maintenance and new infrastructure projects by linking funding to measurable accomplishments through a system called Pay for Success. With this funding system investors provide up-front capital for work to be done, with repayment tied to the successful achievement of agreed-upon outcomes.
The Baileys Trail System was selected to pilot this model by the Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, and Quantified Ventures through a competitive process. Seth Brown from Quantified Ventures said that the Wayne National Forest was selected based upon the size and type of project, its potential impact, and progress in the planning process.
“We could not have selected a better pilot site,” he said. “The level of community support, the passion of the team, the relationship with Ohio University, the indomitable spirit of the Appalachian communities, and the phenomenal leadership of the Wayne National Forest staff have been key drivers in the project’s success so far.”
Connecting adjacent state and community trails, the Baileys Trail System is within driving distance of about 15 percent of the US population. It is expected to become a premier mountain biking destination east of the Mississippi – an evolution that will enable Athens County to diversify the regional economy through outdoor recreation and tourism.
According to Dawn McCarthy, partnership and community engagement coordinator on the Wayne National Forest, the trail is expected to attract users who will be eager to explore other aspects of nearby communities, including shops and restaurants.
Research and market analysis conducted by Quantified Ventures determined that the Baileys Trail System will draw more than 181,000 visitors per year. In 10 years, these visitors will result in $6.9 million in higher wages, $7.3 million in increased tax revenue, and $20.1 million in increased spending.
Pay for Success can unlock the upfront investment capital to build the trail system, estimated to be $5.4 million. Beneficiaries of increases in visitation such as local cities, counties, and villages can repay the investment based on the successful achievement of the economic outcomes produced from the influx of new visitors. Research partners such as local Ohio University will evaluate and validate the outcomes to ensure transparency around data, government spending, and National Forest and recreational infrastructure usage.
“One of the greatest challenges for our region is to improve the health and economic wellbeing of the residents of our communities,” said Athens City Council member Peter Kotses. “With this project, we are utilizing the resources of the national forest to elevate these points in the right direction.”