The best way to increase native financial, well being and conservation outcomes by out of doors recreation – The European Sting – Crucial Information & Insights on European Politics, Financial system, International Affairs, Enterprise & Expertise

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This article is brought to you thanks to The European Sting’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Seth Brown, Vice President, Quantified Ventures, Jonas Epstein, Conservation Finance Project Specialist, United States Forest Service

  • When industries that traditionally support local economies decline, their assets are depleted without serious investment and renewal.
  • Outdoor recreation facilities can drive sustainable economic development through public-private collaboration and investment.
  • The Baileys Trail System in Wayne National Forest in Ohio’s Appalachian Mountains provides a replicable case study for public-private collaboration.

Southeast Ohio’s wealth of natural resources has supported industries and jobs dating back to the 18th century, including salt, lumber, brick, and coal mining. However, as demand for these commodities declined, Southeast Ohio’s boom turned into a bust, with significant economic repercussions for the state’s most vulnerable counties.

Today, the Wayne National Forest – headquartered in Athens County – is the only national forest in Ohio. It encompasses thousands of acres of abandoned coal mines, and in the 2000s the community began to view these mines as underutilized assets rather than “scars.”

Together, the community, local governments, Quantified Ventures and the United States Forest Service have redefined this terrain as a world-class trail system and premier mountain biking destination. Such an asset could attract visitors, boost infrastructure investment, and diversify economies in the small, struggling towns of Southeast Ohio.

We saw the gist of an idea, but lacked the local capacity and capital to help the idea take off. So the model we developed is a public-private collaboration in leisure time that is now being replicated in four states.

Linking funding to outcomes

We believed that through outcome-based funding, we could secure upfront capital to initiate the recovery space. Through this model, private investment provides a portion of the upfront cost of building the Baileys Trail System, with repayment tied to the successful achievement of the project’s economic development outcomes, in this case increased sales tax and temporary guest taxes.

Wayne National Forest is within 600 miles of 60% of the United States population. This accessibility was a good starting point to prove the feasibility of the project as it meant many people could use the trail.

Project developer Quantified Ventures combined market research with an economic impact study to forecast the kind of impact an 88-mile trail — dubbed the Baileys Trail System — could generate over the next 10 years. It showcased millions of dollars in economic benefits, access to outdoor recreation, healthcare savings, conservation, connectivity and social inclusion.

Bailey’s Trail System will attract more than 181,000 visitors a year. In 10 years, Quantified Ventures estimates that these visitors will translate into $6.9 million in higher wages, $7.3 million in tax revenue and $20.1 million in higher expenses to lead.

put planning into action

After quantifying the regional impact of the trail, we shared these projections with local elected officials and investors. This process launched the development of the Baileys Trail System as the area’s premier playground for mountain bike fans and local outdoor enthusiasts.

From there, Quantified Ventures, local governments, investors, and the United States Forest Service worked to:

  • Bring in local organizational structures including: 1) a local governing council – the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia; 2) Annual funding to strengthen local capacity through a full-time ORCA Executive; 3) a non-profit economic development partner – Athens-Wayne Outdoor Asset Development Corporation – to manage the trail as a sustainable social enterprise.
  • Secure $11 million in public and private funding for the 88-mile trail system.
  • Provide technical support for business strategy, planning and local capacity building.
  • Position ORCA to scale beyond the Baileys Trail System and expand to 11 counties in Appalachian, Ohio.

To date, more than 31 miles of trail have been built, 78 additional jobs have been created in addition to the 150 preserved, and $2 million in federal and state government funding has been secured. The development of the trail has also prompted entrepreneurs in the surrounding towns to invest in local businesses such as B. a restaurant and a brewery that will be housed in an old school building.

Construction of Phase IV of 26 additional miles of the trail began in July 2022. All of this progress came during a global health pandemic that has presented numerous economic and logistical hurdles. However, it provided new funding opportunities and increased public appreciation for the value of nature.

Blended approach

The Baileys Trail System is a sustainable model of shared responsibility for outdoor recreation that contributes to the environmental, social and economic growth and vitality of Southeast Ohio. The project has evolved into a multi-year partnership based on innovative financing and public-private collaboration in support of trail construction and complementary projects related to natural resources and infrastructure.

Working with the Forest Service, Quantified Ventures is replicating this model in other US states to enable communities to solve problems together, attract public and private capital, and retain local ownership of assets that generate long-term revenue.

We work hand-in-hand with communities to develop outdoor recreation infrastructure – campgrounds, visitor centers or other outdoor infrastructure – and nurture the local outdoor economy through our proven playbook, based on three core principles:

  • collective management – The cooperative governance structure of the Baileys Trail System included the US Forest Service, Athens Wayne Outdoor Asset Development Corporation and the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia.
  • Mixed financing and revenue sharing – We have blended public funding from federal, state and local sources and private funding from investors, donors and local businesses.
  • sustainability – Multiple, diversified revenue streams enabled expansion and self-sustaining investment opportunities into the future.

Now public and private partners are running similar projects across the country, including in California, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington State. Diversifying and leveraging government, private and social impact sectors reduces risk and improves ability to deliver sustainable and impactful outcomes with desired outcomes.

While this approach is difficult and time-consuming, we know that there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. But we also have an opportunity – as representatives of government, philanthropy, industry, investors and local implementers – to better align our efforts to develop and diversify the outdoor leisure economy and catalyze economic development at the local level.

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