Mary’s Way— A new trail to Agraria
- Published: January 16, 2020
A new trail will connect Yellow Springs and Agraria, Community Solutions’ center for regenerative land use located west of the village.
The local nonprofit learned late in December that it had been awarded $500,000 from the Clean Ohio Trails Fund toward the construction of a paved, multi-use trail that will start at East Enon Road just south of Yellow Springs High School and travel about a mile through wooded areas and past wetlands and farm fields to end up at Agraria’s historic barn.
“We’ll be able to welcome people to Agraria in a new way,” Community Solutions Media and Education Coordinator David Diamond, who headed up the writing of the grant proposal, said in a recent interview.
Construction is expected to begin in July 2020, with the trail opening as early as the summer of 2021.
The new trail will be named “Mary’s Way,” after the late Mary Donahoe, who with her husband, Rick, donated 10 acres adjacent to Agraria and was supportive of Community Solutions’ plans for the property from the start.
Rick Donahoe said in a written reflection on the land donation that “Mary felt strongly that the time to support something you care about and believe in is not waiting until it becomes established, but helping it become established.”
Donating 10 acres from the couple’s 40-acre holdings west of the village was “one small thing” Mary wanted to do to help Agraria take root, he added.
Mary’s Way will traverse the property donated by the Donahoes, as well as crossing a driveway via arrangement with another local landowner, Gary Shorter. In addition, Community Solutions is in negotiations with the Yellow Springs school district regarding the sale of about one acre of land from the southern edge of the high/middle school campus for the beginning of the trail, according to Diamond.
The two parties initially explored an easement arrangement, but state law regulating school property doesn’t accommodate the permanence of use that a project like a paved trail requires, Diamond explained.
Currently, most people reach Agraria by car via Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, as the roadway is far from hospitable to bikes. With the new trail, visitors to Agraria will have an eco-friendly way to reach the property, according to Diamond.
“This is a fundamental piece for us as an environmentally oriented organization,” he said.
Since its launch in 2017, Agraria has hosted more than 480 schoolchildren and 500 adults for field trips, workshops and conferences, according to a recent Community Solutions press release.
The 128-acre property west of Yellow Springs village limits was purchased by Community Solutions and local supporters at auction in early 2017, and subsequently became the nonprofit’s headquarters, as well as the site of a variety of regenerative land use projects. Upcoming events include conferences on food systems, native plants, climate and biodiversity, and workshops on mushroom cultivation and outdoor kitchen design, among others.
Local schools also make regular use of the site for field trips. Bluebird monitoring and an ongoing soil study have brought students from Mills Lawn and Yellow Springs middle and high school out to Agraria about 16 times over the past couple of years, according to Diamond.
“We seek to build a connection between students and the land and soil,” he said.
That connection will be strengthened by allowing students to walk or bike to the property rather than being bussed, as is currently the case, he added.
And new this May, Community Solutions is planning to open a farmstand on the property. The farmstand intends to sell cover crop seeds, compost made at Agraria, products from area herbalists and microgreens grown by students at Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, among other items.
“So much growth has happened at Agraria. We look forward to people coming out to see everything,” Diamond said.
Community Solutions also seeks to raise additional funds from the local community to support the construction of the new trail. The Clean Ohio Trails Fund requires a 25% match in local funds and in-kind donations. Community Solutions leaders hope to raise a higher amount, up to $300,000, to support both trail construction and ecological restoration around the trail, according to Diamond.
“As we put in the trail, we will do some invasive removal and replanting,” he said.
The wooded areas of Agraria are currently home to dense thickets of invasive Amur honeysuckle. As those are cleared, Community Solutions will plant hickories and oaks and woody understory plants such as native spicebush. A food forest designed for Agraria by permaculture expert Peter Bane is also being planned for areas along the new trail.
“It will be a much healthier and more diverse woods,” Diamond noted.
The trail will cross Jacoby Creek at a couple of points, requiring bridge construction that respects the ecologically sensitive nature of the waterway, which is currently being restored in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy.
Educational and interpretative signage is also envisioned for the trail.
Though the project price of up to $800,000 may seem high to some, the environmental planning, design and engineering and construction of a one-mile paved trail is no small undertaking, according to villager Eric Oberg, who informally advised Community Solutions on their grant submission to Clean Ohio. Oberg is director of trail development for the Midwest office of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, as well as an advisory board member for the Clean Ohio Trails Fund.
“Community Solutions getting this is a big deal,” Oberg noted.
Twenty organizations out of 32 applicants around Ohio were awarded Clean Ohio Trails Fund monies in 2019, according to the Community Solutions press release. Oberg said that $6.25 million for trail construction is awarded annually through the trails program, one of four Clean Ohio conservation funds administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR.
A biking enthusiast, Oberg believes that the new trail will be a boon to villagers and visitors, allowing people to access Agraria easily for events — or just enjoy a walk or ride out to the property.
“It’s a beautiful place. I’m looking forward to going for an evening walk or bike ride,” he said.
And Oberg is enthusiastic about how local students will use, and learn from, the trail.
“The benefits are obvious for our school kids — with research projects, field trips and physical education opportunities increased,” he said.
The Clean Ohio grant is one of several Community Solutions has received recently, according to Diamond. A $25,000 grant from Patagonia will support a silvopasture project at Agraria; silvopasture refers to the practice of integrating trees, forage and the grazing of animals in a single site. And a $15,000 grant from the Morgan Family Foundation will support organizational development at Community Solutions, which has largely refocused its mission and activities around Agraria.
“All of this fits together to continue to make Agraria more accessible,” Diamond said.