Covington is working with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to add roughly 3 miles to Devou Park’s Backcountry Trails, setting it up to be the region’s longest urban trail network and among the top five overall in terms of length.
The Covington Board of Commissioners voted last week to approve a contract with Dirt Artisans Trail Building Company to extend the trail to 15 miles total.
Funding for the $147,446 contract comes from entirely outside funds – $52,000 from the Devou Park Advisory Committee and $98,000 from Northern Kentucky-based R.C. Durr Foundation.
The expanded shared-use pathway will be open for runners, hikers and mountain bikers when it opens by the end of 2024.
“It’s fantastic, and we’re fortunate to have them doing the trails,” said Ben Oldiges, manager of Covington Parks and Recreation.
Building opportunities on and off-trail
Devou Park contains more than 700 acres in the northwestern part of Covington. Carving a portion of that rolling landscape into usable trail space is because of a “lot of good people,” Oldiges said. The dedicated group of loosely organized volunteers operates as the Devou Park Trails Collective.
A driving force behind the Backcountry Trails project is the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance, also known as CORA. The organization formed in 1996 as a way to advocate for adding more off-road trails and sustainable and connected trail systems. Today, the nonprofit maintains 115 miles of multi-use natural surface trails across Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky.
CORA member Lee Ransdell believes supporting the trail system is much bigger than bikes and exercise. He described it as an investment in the region and the people who live here.
Of the 12 trail systems in CORA’s network, Devou’s gets the most, Ransdell told the city of Covington. A 2018 economic impact study by the Devou Good Foundation showed trail had a $1.8 million impact on the local economy.
“Expanding the trails will bring more users to the park and the local communities,” Ransdell said.
Four construction companies responded to Covington’s request for proposals for the project. The winning bid went to Dirt Artisans, whose founder and owner Chad Irey, has a long history in Devou Park. His work on the city’s trail system stems back to the early 2000s.
Irey called the Devou Park the “catalyst” for his professional trail endeavors.
“After 12 years and 350 miles of trail building experience, I’m excited to be back at Devou to complete the last phase of this incredible project,” he said.
A project years in the making
Expansion of the Backcountry Trails is a longstanding goal for the city of Covington. It’s a key component of the 2008 Devou Park Master Plan.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and other “red tape” slowed down the project, the city wrote in a statement. As with many projects, funding was a major concern as well.
CORA was responsible for much of the fundraising. In 2019, CORA and its members raised more than $19,000 for the project through a “Party in the Park” gala at Devou Park.
The organization also helped secure significant grant funding. After an unsuccessful bid for Kentucky Recreational Trail Program funding, CORA worked with the city to apply for the Durr Foundation grant. Oldiges credited Ransdell and his team with being “really hands-on” throughout the planning process.
“They helped write the grant for the expanded trails, and they do the maintenance on the existing trails,” Oldiges said. “They practically run the trails for us.”
Blazing new trails
As proposed, these new three miles of pathway – constructed primarily of a natural surface – will feature several new trails or extensions.
That includes incorporating an entrance connector on the east side from Western Avenue. With it, the city aims to provide trail users on foot or bike a safe way to enter the park, access the trail network and get to the Drees Pavilion.
Ransdell also envisioned the expansion of the John Volz Trails, near the pavilion, as a way to tie the trail into the paved path through the park.
Of particular interest to cyclists is a new trail on the west side that will parallel Sleepy Hollow Road and connect to the existing Back Bowl Mountain Bike Trail to the Incinerator Trailhead. This section will be more than a mile long.
CORA is also consulting with officials from Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington on development of a new trail to improve access to Battery Bates, a Civil War-era military earthworks fortification. The Covington-based museum will play a role in creating things such as signage and benches near the site.
Other work will include light improvements and modifications to existing trails, Ransdell said.
Plans call for construction to begin at some point this year. While a more specific timeline isn’t yet available, the city expects work to wrap up by year’s end.
Oldiges, who’s been with Covington since 2020, described the project as a “long build.” He noted that once construction starts, it’s imperative that people stay off the trails.
“There’s a lot that goes into trail-building – more than some might anticipate – and, when done correctly, it’s non-intrusive,” he said. “With that in mind, it will be important to be respectful of the construction of the trails for everyone’s safety.”