ABC: Bikers Behind the Baileys
Today we’re recognizing the contributions and volunteer efforts of the Athens Bicycle Club (ABC), a local organization whose involvement with the Baileys Trail System has proven instrumental to the project’s success since day one. I had the opportunity to speak with club president, Bob West, as well as active members, Kelly Shaw and Ellen Gerl, about ABC as a fundraising entity and volunteer base for the Baileys.
The Athens Bicycle Club was established in 1971, largely as a platform for cyclists to network and promote biking throughout southeast Ohio. ABC welcomes any and all riders, offering annual tours along the Hocking River and weekly group rides at Lake Hope State Park. The organization encourages road cyclists and mountain bikers alike to connect on these paths and in their communities, as the club facilitates various volunteer opportunities for members throughout the year. Whether through trail maintenance or forging local partnerships, ABC continuously advocates for expanded and accessible biking opportunities in Athens County and beyond.
It should come as no surprise that ABC has been heavily involved in the development and implementation of the Baileys Trail System, a soon-to-be premier mountain biking destination right here in the Wayne National Forest. A prominent voice in ABC’s efforts is current club president and longtime cycling advocate Bob West, who speaks highly of the project and remains optimistic about its promised economic impacts. “I hope that the Baileys will kind of be this gateway to mountain biking,” he remarked, believing it could become a link between Lake Hope and Strouds Run State Parks in the future.
Ellen Gerl was similarly enthusiastic about the trails’ potential, anticipating that the system will attract “mountain bikers around the nation who are traveling specifically to find well-maintained trail systems, both accessible and inviting to all levels of riders.” Though club leadership continues to change over the years, Gerl has remained a constant force within ABC. She was one of its original members, frequently offering her time and services to the club by writing newsletters and organizing rides. She initially joined as a road cyclist and assisted with fundraising events early on, particularly the Tour of the Hocking River Valley. “We did that for some 40 years, though I didn’t ride it every year,” she said. “I was involved with that tour from cooking food to getting people signed up.” Gerl’s passion for cycling persists but has since shifted from road to mountain biking. She now helps out more with trail maintenance and volunteer efforts at the Baileys.
Kelly Shaw is another active ABC member, having served as the club’s treasurer for several seasons before retiring from the position last year. Shaw is a relative newcomer to the club, first joining some group rides in the early 2000s before becoming more involved as a mountain biker. During her time as treasurer, she was able to get the club certified as an International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) chapter and hosted trail building workshops through IMBA to educate the local community on trail construction and development. These accomplishments greatly impacted ABC’s role in supporting the Baileys—a partnership that’s actually been decades in the making.
Plans and backing for the Baileys has been brewing since the 1990s, when the USFS designated a specific portion of the forest for mountain bike trail development. However, interest died down for a time before picking back up in 2016 when a new wave of proponents for these trails emerged and formed a Baileys working group that included West and Shaw. “Basically what ABC had to step up and do for the Baileys project was fund the master plan,” Shaw noted, a task the club could do as a nonprofit chapter of IMBA. ABC entered into a partnership agreement with the Wayne National Forest to fund the master plan and plan the Baileys.
One of its first fundraisers as a partner was a raffle that ABC organized with Athens Bicycle shop, bringing in close to $12,000 in ticket sales. Money from this event, coupled with private donations and contributions to IMBA’s Dig In campaign, ultimately covered the bill for the master plan and allowed the USFS to begin developing the system. Gerl and Shaw also mentioned the club’s volunteer efforts when working with the Baileys’ designer Jeremy Wimpey, surveying and laying out the trails as in-kind matching to pay for the master plan and later construction.
This initial hands-on trail work ties into where the club is now. “On a national level, when folks are looking at this project, a lot of what people are skeptical about is the ability to maintain the trail,” Shaw mentioned, due to the widespread perception that many national forest trails already lack proper upkeep. But she predicts that the Baileys could possibly become a model for future trail management efforts on public lands, as ABC and other local volunteers are trained to care for this system. “It’s going to be a very long-term partnership,” she said.
However, in addition to ongoing training for volunteers, Gerl and West also stressed the importance of collaborating with other users groups, like runners and hikers, on maintenance efforts. “Our bike club is relatively small. People don’t realize that, and it’s always been a small core of trail volunteers,” Gerl said, noting how the club already oversees the Lake Hope and Strouds Run trails. Though 88 miles would be a tall order for any group to handle, West believes it all comes down to “practical” management and tracking how the trails are preserved, whether through logged volunteer hours or user reports.
The trails may not maintain themselves, but after speaking with these ABC representatives, it’s clear that the Baileys Trail System is in good hands. To learn more about the club and its involvement throughout the region, visit http://athensbicycleclub.org/. For updates on the Baileys and different partners’ progress on the trails, make sure to follow us on Instagram @baileystrailsystem, on Facebook @BaileysTrails, and Twitter @baileys_trails. And don’t forget to be on the lookout for more blog features coming soon!
Written by Alli Mancz