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Work Underway to Expand the Bike Path

Researchers with the Voinovich School are working with officials from the City of Athens to expand the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway

Madison Koenig
January 20, 2015

Gary Conley, a researcher with the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, is working with officials from the City of Athens to expand the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. Along the way, he hopes to make the bike path more environmentally friendly.

Last fall, the City of Athens purchased an 11-acre property to the west of the city using a grant from the Clean Ohio Fund, which aims to connect urban and natural spaces in Ohio. The floodplain property borders Armitage Road and State Route 682 along the Hocking River.

Although the land had been used for agriculture for many years, Conley said that there is definite evidence that it used to feature a natural wetland. The National Wetland Inventory has the land listed as a wetland site, even though it was drained for agricultural uses.

Working with city planners, AmeriCorps volunteers, and students in the Master of Environmental Studies Program at the Voinovich School, Conley has begun planning how to change the dry and damaged land into a place to support activity for both wildlife and humans.

One of the challenges is the number of other activities the land already supports. A high-pressure natural gas line runs through the center of the property, with a city-owned water line along the southern and eastern borders, and a sewer line along the western side. The property is also bordered by an active railroad on the north, an abandoned railroad on the east, and the Hocking River on the south.

"We certainly have some limitations there, but I think we'll produce something pretty interesting in the end," Conley said.

Despite these obstacles, the people working on this project hope to restore the wetland habitat. The bikeway itself will be used as a feature in restoring the wetland. "We're going to use the bike path as a berm, or a dam, to hold back the water in the wetland," Conley said. The wetland will provide habitat for migratory and local birds, and perhaps even for the Eastern spadefoot toad, an Ohio endangered species that is isolated to major floodplains in southern Ohio.

The first step was to combat invasive plant species, including Johnson grass and poison hemlock, which had taken over the land after it stopped being used for farming. These invasive species will be replaced with plants that are natural to wetlands and riparian, or river bank, areas, some of which were already growing on the land.

Another challenge with this project is making sure the wetland has a reliable source of water. Conley said that he and the other planners are considering ways to connect the wetland with nearby streams and to the Hocking River. When the Hocking floods, the wetland will provide overflow space for the excess water and allow it to filter out slowly.

The site will not only serve the river and wildlife; project leaders hope to create a space that humans can use as well. "Incorporating people into these restoration projects is really important for their long-term success and maintenance," Conley said. He wants to create a public access area where people can take a break from the bike path to enjoy the wetland creatures and the river's edge.

Conley said that the infrastructure for the wetland will be installed over the winter and new wetland plants will be introduced in the spring. The extended portion of the bike path should be available for use by the fall.

"Hopefully people will see it as a valuable resource and choose to use it," he said.