When Lee Ransdell started trail biking, a friend introduced him to Devou Park, which at the time had only had a short, single trail under way.
Eight years later, Ransdell and friends bike there three times or so a week on a trail system that has been expanded with their help and the help of many other volunteers.
It’s close to his home in Villa Hills, and it’s good trail biking.
“There’s a lot of variety there,” he says. “It’s the only trail system in the area that has any significant change in elevation. It’s just a good workout, climbing the hills and a lot of fun descents.”
The trails are also a draw for the park and for Covington, improving not only the intangible thing called quality of life but also the very tangible economy of the city.
Last year, Devou Park volunteers commissioned a study that found that the park’s trail bikers spent more than $2,000 on average — $2,248 to be exact — over the previous 12 months thanks to their visits to the park.
Trail bikers were the big spenders, according to the study, but runners spent an average of $340 each, while hikers spent $228 each.
With tens of thousands of visits made to the park’s backcountry trails by bikers, hikers, and runners, all that exercise added up to a big economic impact — $1.8 million annually, the study found.
Devou is an example of the importance of “parkonomics” — expanding parks and greenspaces to create economic growth — to communities.
About 35,000 visits were made to Devou’s backcountry trail system in 2017 by bikers, hikers, joggers, and trail runners, making it the top participatory activity there. Those visitors came from dozens of zip codes around the Cincinnati metro region.
“There are a tremendous amount of people who come to Covington specifically for Devou,” says Ken Smith, Covington’s neighborhood services director. “We can assume some of those people are staying in Covington after they visit the park, or maybe doing something in Covington before the come to the park. And this is certainly a place that draws from the tristate region.”
Drawn by Devou’s growing system of trails, mountain bikers are committed to their hobby.
“Some of those bikers are passionate about it and they spent a lot of money on it whether it be clothing or safety gear,” Smith says. “There’s a lot of money spent by those folks.”
Ransdell just bought his second trail bike, a Rocky Mountain Instinct, which, when bought new, runs north of $5,000. With a different geometry and travel in the suspension than his other bike, “It should be more fun on downhills and technical sections.”
Bicyclists aren’t the only spenders, of course. The average trail user spent $13.01 on soft goods per visit, the study found. That includes meals, snacks, beverages, ice cream, and lodging. The total annual spend on soft goods was $458,281, with the highest amount of spending, predictably, from visitors who live outside of the region.
Smith himself regularly walks the backcountry trails or if they’re too wet and muddy, the paved trails. “I’ve been up there every day this summer,” he says. That included a 2.5 hour hike in the backcountry on a recent Saturday.
“I love walking,” he says. “It gets me out in nature, helps me decompress from the day.”
Backcountry visits and spending are only expected to grow.
Nationally, running, jogging, and trail running are the most popular outdoor activities with 52.3 million Americans participating, according to a report by the Outdoor Foundation.
Nearly 46 million like to go road biking, mountain biking, or BMX, and more than 42 million are into hiking.
More and more people are getting outdoors. The number of people trail biking in the U.S. has grown 25 percent over 10 years, the report says, while the number of hikers has grown 40 percent.
Based on that anticipated growth, the Devou study recommends investing in expansion and maintenance of the backcountry trails.
Much of that is now done by a group of very committed volunteers.
Ransdell is part of a group called The Trail Collective that was formed about eight years ago and has an agreement with the city of Covington maintain the trails. The Trail Collective is under the umbrella of the local International Mountain Bicycling Association chapter CORA (Cincinnati Off-road Alliance). On his to-do list is a hike with a chainsaw to clear a downed tree on the Incinerator Trail.
The Collective organizes periodic trail days where volunteers gather and work on trail maintenance.
The importance and popularity of 700-acre Devou is why it will have its own section in the parks master plan Covington officials are putting together.
“Devou is larger than all our other parks combined,” Smith says. “Part of the master plan is how do we manage Devou going forward and what additional amenities are needed.”
Devou Park was originally the family farm of William P. Devou, Sr. and Sarah Ogden Devou. Their children, Charles and William P. Devou, Jr., donated the 500-acre family estate to the City of Covington for park purposes in 1910.
While the economic impact of Devou and other parks sometimes is overlooked, the social impact is evident and is the chief reason Covington prioritizes its park system.
“People need quality places to gather and build a sense of community,” Smith says. “It builds stronger communities to have places for social interaction and to bring generations together. It’s critical for quality of life that cities have good parks.”
Covington has nearly 1,000 acres of park land and green space spread out over 40 different parks, playgrounds, and facilities, including about the 700 acres that make Devou Park and its golf course and biking trails.
The city manages about 30 facilities on nearly 200 acres, including the Licking River Greenway and Trails, the Riverfront Commons trail under construction, the 54-acre Bill Cappel Sports Complex, with its baseball diamonds and soccer fields, two full-size swimming pools, a water park, and many smaller playgrounds.
The master plan process is an opportunity for the public to shape the future of Covington’s parks.
"We don't believe in that adage, 'Build it and they will come,' " said Parks and Rec Director Rosie Santos. "That's us telling our families what they want. We'd rather listen and let them tells us what they want."
Parks & Rec offers several ways for the public to weigh in:
- A survey and interactive website, which can be found here.
- Ongoing meetings with a steering committee that includes City officials and the public.
- Upcoming focus groups to discuss specific ideas like youth sports, dog parks, and trails.
- A kick-off meeting at 6 PM Oct. 17 at City Hall.