Photo provided by Dirt Artisans Trail Building Company.
Long-time builder Dirt Artisans hired to expand network
COVINGTON, Ky. – Roughly 3 miles will be added to Devou Park’s Backcountry Trails this year, extending the total trail system to about 15 miles and making it the longest urban trail network in the region and among the top five overall in terms of length.
To construct the trails, which will be used by runners, hikers and mountain bikers, the Covington Board of Commissioners voted last week to approve a contract with a familiar company, Dirt Artisans Trail Building Company.
“It’s fantastic, and we’re fortunate to have them doing the trails,” said Ben Oldiges, Covington Parks and Recreation Manager.
Dirt Artisans’ founder and owner Chad Irey has a long history in Devou, having spearheaded the effort with the City to build its trails back in the early 2000s. The park contains over 700 acres on Covington’s northwest corner.
"The Devou Backcountry Trail Project was a catalyst for my professional trail endeavors,” said Irey. “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."
The contract with Dirt Artisans – for $147,446 – will be paid entirely with outside funds: $52,000 from the Devou Park Advisory Committee (DPAC), and $98,000 from the Northern Kentucky-based R.C. Durr Foundation.
The Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance (CORA) – an organization formed in 1996 that advocates for more miles of off-road trails and sustainable and connected trail systems – was the driving force behind both allocations, Oldiges said. After an unsuccessful run at a Kentucky Recreational Trail Program grant, CORA worked with the City’s then-grant writer to apply for the Durr grant, and a CORA member who holds a seat formally proposed and secured the committee’s funding.
“CORA, and especially CORA member Lee Ransdell, was really hands on with this,” said Oldiges. “They helped write the grant for the expanded trails, and they do the maintenance on the existing trails. They practically run the trails for us.”
With volunteers loosely organized under what’s called the Devou Park Trails Collective, the trail networks and the expansion “has been an initiative with a lot of good people involved,” Oldiges said.
CORA and its members also provided additional funding through a “Party in the Park” gala at Devou it hosted in 2019, raising more than $18,000, Ransdell said.
Even with the funding in place, the effort was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and red tape. But four companies answered the City’s request for proposals, and with the selection of Dirt Artisans, work will get underway this year and be completed by year’s end.
The trail expansion was part of the 2008 Devou Park Master Plan. The 3 miles – primarily of a natural surface – will include an array of new trails or extensions, as envisioned by CORA and City Parks & Rec officials.
Among them, Ransdell said:
- An Eastside Entrance Connector from Western Avenue that will provide residents and visitors on foot or bike in that neighborhood a safe way to enter the park, access its trails network, and get to the Drees Pavilion.
- An expansion of the John Volz Trails, near the Drees Pavilion, that will tie the trail into the paved path through the park.
- Another new trail that will improve access to Battery Bates, a Civil War-era military earthworks fortification. Ransdell said the group is collaborating with the Behringer-Crawford Museum on the trail, signage, and benches.
- Of particular interest to cyclists will be 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. It will be more than a mile long.
Other work will include light improvements and modifications to existing trails, Ransdell said.
Once trail construction gets underway, Oldiges said, it’s important that park visitors be mindful of the work and stay out of harm’s way, for themselves and the workers. In other words, all trail users should stay off the trails while they’re under construction.
“It will be a long build because it’s a long trail system that they’re building for us,” said Oldiges. “There’s a lot that goes into trail-building – more than some might anticipate – and, when done correctly, it’s non-intrusive. With that in mind, it will be important to be respectful of the construction of the trails for everyone’s safety.”
The trails will have deep impact on communities, Ransdell said.
“Mountain bike trails are a proven amenity that communities use for economic development – both for tourism and for talent attraction and retention – but the benefits are deeper,” said Ransdell. “Outdoor exercise improves physical health and mental well-being. Studies have shown that if children can access quality trails and parks within a quarter mile of where they live, without having to cross dangerous multi-lane streets, the children perform significantly better in school.”
Of all 12 trail systems in the CORA network, Ransdell said, the Devou trail system is the most used by cyclists, hikers, and runners, and that usage casts a wide net of impact. A 2018 economic impact study by the Devou Good Foundation, a local philanthropic group, found that the trail system had an impact of $1.8 million on the local economy.
“Expanding the trails will bring more users to the park and the local communities,” Ransdell said.
# # #