The Voice Behind the Baileys
“When I look down at this region from up on the trail, I see opportunity. I see a natural resource, not for its coal or salt or clay, but for its breathtaking beauty. This land still has so much to offer the thousands already coming from near and far to experience it. I count myself among those whose lives have been positively impacted by these trails. Because of the Baileys, I have been able to put food on my family’s table through this pandemic. That’s no small thing.”
When my supervisor at the Wayne National Forest, Dawn McCarthy, first asked me to write a blog about my experience working with the Baileys Trail System, I wavered. So far, I’ve enjoyed the relative anonymity as a behind-the-scenes workhorse who embraces the introversion of long, quiet hours behind my computer. But if you’ve happened upon one of our informational flyers, sent us a message through Instagram or Facebook, or read an engaging #HumansOfTheBaileys story, in a way, we’ve already met. Although I feel like I know you—your thoughtful inquiries about trail conditions, your generosity during our match fundraiser, your humor and love for life in the many shared posts from our trails—the time is ripe for a formal introduction. So, hello! I’m Jasmine, an environmental scientist who dabbles in the arts, and I’m the main voice behind the Baileys’ external communications.
My own long and winding trail of a story began six months ago while I was wrapping up my final semester of graduate work at Ohio University’s Voinovich School. In the two months prior, I’d watched each and every employment lead I’d pursued fade with the uncertainty of the surging pandemic. Jobs where I’d interviewed and received enthusiastic callbacks were suddenly frozen until further notice. Already, my career path was atypical. I was a mother of two, pushing 40, who had put my education and career on hold to have a family, travel, and live abroad. But becoming a mom ignited in me a sense of responsibility to somehow leave this world even a little better off for future generations. I wanted to—needed to—do something. So, I reentered the world of academia, and eventually worked my way through two science degrees. I was finally ready to jumpstart a career in service to environmental justice…in the middle of a global pandemic.
When the call came from the Greening Youth Foundation on a Friday afternoon in May, I was ecstatic. The Greening Youth Foundation (GYF) is a fantastic nonprofit organization based out of Atlanta, GA that connects underrepresented people to careers in conservation, with an emphasis on youth and young adults from diverse backgrounds. My six-month internship would be as a full-time Resource Assistant for the Wayne National Forest, specifically assisting in the Baileys Trail System project in partnerships and community development. As a resident of nearby Millfield, I was familiar with the project and was especially drawn to its potential as a robust engine for sustainable economic development in my Appalachian community. I’d never mountain biked before but as a 15-year roller derby veteran, I soon found the tight camaraderie of the trail communities to be both relatable and palpable.
I dove in headfirst, learning the long history of the Baileys project, meeting the many partners involved in its fruition, and eventually, lending my own suggestions and ideas. My start date dovetailed with the opening of the first 14 miles of trail and my initial task was to ensure this world-class trail system had the online representation it deserved. After years entrenched in heavy schoolwork, the opportunity to flex some creative muscle again came as a welcome respite. I launched an Instagram page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel, and began to beef up the Baileys’ Facebook presence with the help of dedicated volunteer and avid cyclist Rob Delach. I also helped launch the Baileys’ official website, and designed a branded announcement template that’s easily identifiable and versatile. The efforts behind #HumansOfTheBaileys were commended in a recent local news article, noting that all our social media traction has been organic, without relying on any paid advertising or boosted posts, to date. Six months after launch, we have over 1300 Instagram followers and our Facebook page has surpassed 1900 followers—a 280% increase. That said, our social media efforts are only a mirror, turned ever so slightly to reflect the best of a quality trail system that really sells itself.
My position as Resource Assistant has also allowed me opportunities to network with some of the most influential people in Athens County, a testament to the multifaceted nature of this project. I attend weekly virtual meetings with the likes of mayors, county commissioners, representatives from nonprofits, and federal government employees. I’ve assisted in grant strategies, fundraising campaigns, community surveys, blogs, press releases, and policy writing. But perhaps most importantly, I have access to a privy window into my community. From behind the Baileys brand, I interact daily with people from all walks of life, answering inquiries, smiling at shared posts, and yes, even addressing the occasional grievance. Each exchange informs me just a little more about the pulse of my community—its desires, its concerns, and its self-perception.
Every two weeks, I ride or walk the trails to collect infrared counter data for an Ohio University study and on each outing, I take the opportunity to reflect on this magical place I have the privilege of calling home. When I look down at this region from up on the trail, I see opportunity. I see a natural resource, not for its coal or salt or clay, but for its breathtaking beauty. This land still has so much to offer the thousands already coming from near and far to experience it. I count myself among those whose lives have been positively impacted by these trails. Because of the Baileys, I have been able to put food on my family’s table through this pandemic. That’s no small thing. And, in partnership with Building Bridges to Careers and Rural Action, I’m now supervising two local student interns whose lives have been transformed by emergent economic opportunities that were made possible only because of the Baileys.
In the final month of my internship with the Wayne National Forest and the Greening Youth Foundation, I was notified that the Baileys Trail System had been honored with a Chief’s Award, the highest achievement bestowed by the US Forest Service—and I, an intern, was named as one of just six Team Members on the award recognition. I could not have asked for a more perfect and humbling end to my time with the Wayne National Forest and the Greening Youth Foundation. While this position has come to a close, I’m thrilled to say that I will be continuing this important work as the Baileys Trail System Program Assistant with Rural Action and the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to accomplish what I’d set out to do all those years ago—something that leaves this place a little better for my children and yours.
Written by Jasmine Facun
Lede Image by Jasmine Facun (“Coal Train Trail,” ink on paper)