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Conservation Through Trails

“Getting out into natural spaces is the first step to loving them, and loving them is the first step to wanting to protect them.”


Throughout history, trails have been used as a tool for conservation. This practice, beginning with recreational hiking, expanded in the United States in the 19th century, at a time when the country was transitioning from rural farmland into an industrialized nation. As the industrial revolution roared throughout the growing urban districts, health officials learned that outdoor public spaces were key to public and natural health–from humans to plants and animals. Public parks, trails, and recreational areas were created as a space for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, to enjoy time in the great outdoors. With these developments, public health increased and citizens began forming attachments to wild places, fighting for their care and upkeep. Conservation became an important aspect of countless families’ daily lives, and we owe much of those efforts to beautiful nature trails, just like those of the Baileys Trail System. 

Today, conservation is more important than ever. Aimee Delach, a conservationist who specializes in climate change adaptation, invasive species, and bird conservation, explains that we are currently facing two environmental crises that could drastically change the earth as we know it. One of these crises, known as the Sixth Mass Extinction, is being driven by habitat loss, overexploitation of populations, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. “In 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent intergovernmental body representing 130 member countries, warned that up to one million species–nearly a quarter of the known life on earth–could face extinction within decades,” Delach affirms. The second crisis, climate change, threatens not only these species, but also the habitats in which they reside. A loss of these species and habitats would devastate the ecosystems of our planet, making conservation vitally necessary. 

Scientists warn that the Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction of species. (Graphic Courtesy MacLean’s)

Although many may not consider the broader impacts of trails beyond their access to recreation, by embracing the beautiful trails found in southeast Ohio, they are aiding conservation efforts in a very meaningful way. Trails allow humans to form connections to lands; people who are connected to a location will be more likely to defend it from resource exploitation. Danny Twilley, a recreational programmer who focuses on getting people involved in outdoor activities, elaborates: “I call trails the veins and arteries that connect us to the special places we need to get to. Trails connect people to the land: that’s conservation. Everyone uses trails and that’s why we have to focus on trails that are good from cradle to grave. That’s where the Baileys comes in. It has beginner trails to adult trails, so everyone can get connected. And when we introduce kids to nature, we’re creating future conservationists.” Through visiting and advocating for trails, one is defending natural spaces. This simple act alone saves countless habitats, ecosystems, and animals from exploitation and even possible extinction. As Delach succinctly states, “Getting out into natural spaces is the first step to loving them, and loving them is the first step to wanting to protect them.”

The Athens County Cougarbats mountain bike team stops for a break on the Baileys Trail System. (Photo Courtesy Facebook)

For humans, trails provide the added benefits of improved quality of life and health. Twilley continues, “If people have access to a trail near their house, they’re more likely to exercise at least 45 minutes each week. There’s also mental health to think about. If you spend 90 to 120 minutes outdoors per week, you’ll have more mental well-being. It’s also low-cost to go hiking on a trail, so it creates access for all types of people.” Additionally, trails and wild spaces create jobs and bring economic development to surrounding areas. Delach emphasizes, “A trail system big enough and interesting enough to draw people from far and wide is also going to be a driver for economic development. Chauncey is already slated to get a new cafe, for instance, and that likely wouldn’t have happened without the Baileys.” This economic development brings jobs to the surrounding region, strengthening the quality of life for countless people and their families. For instance, in recovery from the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a group that contributed to forest management, flood control, state and national parks, and conservation projects. According to the National Park Service, this 9-year program employed 3 million men, allowing them to recover from the economic crisis. 

CCC enrollee planting a tree on the Wayne National Forest, 1938. By the time of the Great Depression, much of Southeast Ohio’s lush green hills had been deforested and left barren. (Photo by A.J. Quinkert, Courtesy of Forest History Society)

CCC enrollee installing a squirrel box in a tree on the Wayne National Forest, 1940. At the time of the Great Depression, many species that are now abundant in our forests were threatened by habitat loss and overexploitation. (Photo by Leland J. Prater, Courtesy of Forest History Society)

Trails are often used as a first step towards conserving wild spaces and native species. In a time where conservation is more necessary than ever, projects such as the Baileys Trail System will bring opportunity to Chauncey, Athens, and surrounding communities, allowing residents to focus on building a connection with the nature around them. This connection will protect not only the trails themselves, but the vital resources that make a home alongside them.While the CCC did, of course, benefit the environment, it also taught the people of the United States a valuable lesson: people who are financially stable often are able to lend more of themselves to conservation efforts. When someone is struggling financially, their main focus is often on short-term survival rather than long-term goals. Jasmine Facun, the Baileys Trail System Program Assistant with Rural Action’s Resilient Communities, provided an example, “If someone is cold, are they likely to let that tree stand or will they cut it for firewood? If they’re hungry, are they likely to allow that animal to live or will they hunt it for food?” Trails have the potential to economically lift an entire area, and by doing so, come full circle by allowing people to focus on preserving the land they are intrinsically connected to.

To learn more about the modern of incarnation of the CCC in Appalachia, the Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC), visit 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 Alexis Medley

Lede Image: CCC enrollees operating a trailbuilder and tractor on the Wayne National Forest, 1940. (Photo by H.C. Cook, Courtesy of Forest History Society)


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