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The Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice announced this week that Mary’s Way, a planned multi-use path that will connect the educational farm to the village, is underway. The path will begin on East Enon Road near YS High School and end at the Agraria barn. (Submitted photo by Faith Morgan)

Agraria breaks ground on Mary’s Way

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The Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice announced this week that the local nonprofit is moving ahead with Mary’s Way — a project more than four years in the making.

Planned as a paved multi-use trail, Mary’s Way will begin at East Enon Road near Yellow Springs High School and wind through woods and wetlands for about a mile before ending at Agraria’s barn.

According to a press release from Agraria, the trail broke ground in March and is expected to be completed this summer. The trail is being built by Fillmore Construction, a Leesburg firm.

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“With Mary’s Way expected to reach completion in the coming months, Agraria is asking community members to support this community initiative and financially contribute to the final phase of making the project a reality,” the press release reads.

Mary’s Way is named for the late Mary Donahoe, who donated 10 acres of land to Agraria with her husband, Rick Donahoe; the trail will cross a portion of the land donated by the Donahoes.

Mary’s Way aims to be the culmination of a long-held goal by Agraria to physically connect its 138-acre educational farm with the wider Yellow Springs community; at present, most folks visit Agraria by driving down Dayton-Yellow Springs Road. However, when Mary’s Way is completed, local residents will be able to visit Agraria by walking or biking.

“The idea that you’ll be able to walk here [from the start of the trail] in about 15 minutes is really exciting,” Agraria Interim Manager Eric Bee told the News this week. “Especially students — I’ve worked with some of the students, and it’s hard to get them here; they have to carpool or have their parents bring them.”

Agraria first announced Mary’s Way in early 2020. Construction was originally slated to begin that summer through a $500,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Trails Fund, with a then-projected total project cost of around $800,000; the project has also been supported since then by contributions from The Dayton Foundation, the Kettering Foundation, Greene County Parks and Trails and private donations.

In April of 2022, however, Mary’s Way ran into a snag: As the News reported that year, one Agraria neighbor was unwilling to negotiate an easement with the nonprofit so that about ​​0.0315 acres of the trail could cross their property.

Without an easement agreement in place, Agraria was in danger of losing its grant from Clean Ohio Trails; the nonprofit requested a grant extension.

According to Bee, Agraria continued to work toward finalizing easements between Agraria and its neighbors, including successful conversations with the resident who had initially stalled on negotiations. In early 2023, he said, the nonprofit was “very, very close” to signing off on an agreement that worked for everyone involved.

“And then Agraria imploded the next day,” Bee said.

On Feb. 16, 2023, Agraria’s board of directors announced that it would temporarily suspend operations pending legal and financial counsel after discovering that payroll and payroll taxes could not be paid that month. The farm’s 30-plus employees were furloughed, and then-Executive Director Susan Jennings was placed on administrative leave. In April, the board announced that Jennings had resigned and that earnings owed to the furloughed employees had been paid via funds secured through donations.

Agraria reopened in August 2023 as a volunteer-run effort, and jump-started operations with a series of public education events, which have continued since then.

But as Agraria rebuilt itself, Bee said, it also needed to rebuild its relationships with the neighbors closest to the proposed Mary’s Way.

“We had to re-establish trust to come back to what the original agreements were,” Bee said. “It was a difficult challenge.”

At the same time, Agraria requested another grant extension from Clean Ohio Trails, and was granted an extension through December this year — the final extension the funding agency was able to offer.

Agraria is still facing the financial challenges of rebuilding and restructuring in general, and Mary’s Way has run into logistical issues this year, including delayed funding reimbursements, inflated construction costs and making way for the Indiana bat, a protected species.

Nevertheless, Agraria Advisory Board member Faith Morgan said she and others on the farm are optimistic about the future, and lauded Bee’s “stick-to-it-iveness” for persisting.

“It took somebody on the ground, like Eric, who was just able to be there,” Morgan said. “He’s built relationships and bent over backward to be responsive, and it’s been really remarkable to watch.”

For his part, Bee said, the promise of Mary’s Way — and its benefactors and namesake — kept the effort strong.

“Thinking about Rick Donahoe and his late wife, Mary, kind of kept me going on this project, because it hasn’t been easy,” he said. “So have the people who were so excited and have given so much time, money and love — it was hard to let it drop.”

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