“An increase of trail runners coming into our area would benefit the economy, including local businesses. Once there are more trails open there’s going to be even more people coming from other areas…That’s going to be great for the economy. Tons of people will come to stay for the weekend.”
The Baileys may be closed to cyclists for the winter, but the trail system continues to hum with the soft sound of footfalls upon packed dirt. The trail running community in the United States is an immense and ever growing population, with 9.15 million trail running participants in 2017, according to the American Trail Running Association. This number has been rising steadily since 2006, when there were 4.56 million participants, and is increasing yearly.
Though the community is growing fast, local runners like Dr. Rachael Ryerson, a professor in the English Department at Ohio University, maintains that “the trail running community is large and tight-knit, especially in Athens.” Ryerson grew up running cross country and track but didn’t discover trail running until she moved to Southeast Ohio. “Now I’m obsessed with trail running, and with running longer and longer distances on the trails,” she said. Ryerson is connected to the regional running network through Southeastern Ohio Trail Running (SEOTR), a community-based non-profit with a mission to “promote trail running in Southeastern Ohio as a recreational activity.” In addition to volunteering time to trail maintenance, SEOTR organizes trail racing events, which draw people from all over the region and beyond. Ryerson has competed in many of these local races and sees a lot of potential for the Baileys as a future trail running event venue. “I think a lot about how great it would be for the Baileys to host trail running events, especially once more of the trails are opened,” she reflected. “They are wonderful trails to run on.”
Another runner, Wesley Harton, agrees that the Baileys Trail System will bring countless runners into Southeastern Ohio. Harton, originally from Cleveland, spent five years in Athens where he fell in love with trail running. “The Ohio trail running community is pretty impressive in itself. There are thousands of trail runners that travel all across the country, if not more,” he stated in an interview. “An increase of trail runners coming into our area would benefit the economy, including local businesses. Once there are more trails open there’s going to be even more people coming from other areas, like Cleveland. I think that’s going to be great for the economy. Tons of people will come to stay for the weekend–they may run the trails in the mornings and spend the evenings in Athens.”
Runner Shane Early relocated to the area in large part due to the Baileys Trail System. Early spent many years in Hong Kong, which leads Asia in trail running. In Hong Kong, he became more involved with the trail running community, and he even began organizing weekend hikes. Now living in Nelsonville, he attests that the Baileys Trails will bring runners into our area, stating, “The Baileys is kind of the thing that put me over the edge to move here. If you’re an active person, you want a healthy lifestyle, you like being outside, or being around trees, this is the place to be.” In fact, Early says the increasing number of travelers is already evident. “We’re already seeing people from all over coming to check it out. Nobody else will have more than 35 miles of trails in one spot so it’s going to get promoted,” he explained. “It’s the same thing I saw in Hong Kong.”
Businesses have already begun seeing increasing numbers of visitors coming into their stores, such as Ohio Valley Running Company, an Athens-based shop that sells supplies aimed toward the running community. Jonathan Bernard opened Ohio Valley Running Company nearly five years ago with his wife as a place specifically designed for running materials. “There’s some incredible trails we have around here that you don’t get in a lot of other places,” said Bernard. “We’re super lucky here in Southeast Ohio that we have such a great network of trail systems within driving distance.” Bernard asserts that the addition of the Baileys Trail Systems to the many other trails in Southeast Ohio has already brought tourists to the area, and will continue to bring countless more as new trails open. “I think any time there are more choices or options for trail runners, people will find their way down here in order to run those trails. People are driving down from Columbus, and we’re seeing those people in our store to get supplies. We’re seeing sales of trail shoes we wouldn’t have seen 5 years ago when we opened. We’re seeing people come from other places and stopping by the store or ordering stuff from us. People are coming down because they’ve heard really good things about the Baileys,” Bernard remarked. “If the Baileys tract continues to get funding, it will eventually have 88 miles locally, which will bring in even more people. The more connected trail options we have, the more we can really begin to sell Athens as a Trail Town,” he said.
The trail running community has proven itself to be a large and active community within Southeast Ohio, with many members residing here and countless more traveling to visit the Baileys Trails and surrounding trail systems. The trails promise increased tourism to the area through both casual excursions and formal racing events, bringing many economic benefits. With businesses such as Ohio Valley Running Company already seeing growth connected to the trails, and no shortage of dedicated runners ready to explore our forested foothills, it is clear that the Baileys Trail System will have a strong positive impact on Southeast Ohio.
Written by Alexis Medley, with contributions from Jasmine Facun
Featured Image: Dr. Rachael Ryerson