2 decades, over 700 miles: Trail system to mark milestone

By GREG JORDAN, Bluefield Daily Telegraph undefined
BRAMWELL, W.Va. (AP) — Almost 20 years ago, a new ATV trail was opened as an economic development project for southern West Virginia. Nobody was sure if any riders were interested in trying the new trails, but they came, they rode, and after 20 years they keep coming in ever greater numbers.
The Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail is celebrating its 20th anniversary in October 2020. Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, remembered when the trail opened on Columbus Day in 2000.
“We opened with approximately 300 miles of trails in two counties, Logan and Mingo,” Lusk recalled. “And now we operate over 700 miles in five counties, Login, Mingo, McDowell, Wyoming and Mercer. And this spring we’re opening up two new trail systems, one in Wayne County and one in Lincoln. That will push us over 800 miles and put us in seven counties. The whole idea of this system was to grow the economy and it’s bringing in more than 55,000 people. That’s really helping the economies in these small towns.”
The fact that the Hatfield-McCoy Trail is approaching its 20th anniversary is significant, he said.
“For us, it’s huge,” Lusk said. “If you look at our first year, it was certainly a pilot project. Nobody knew if a single person would come there to ride. You just don’t know. We think they will. In that first fall we sold almost 5,000 permits. We knew just because of the initial interest that we really had something successful, and we’ve built off that success.”
Trail permit sales have continued to grow. This year the trail authority expects to sell almost 55,000 permits, and this number could go higher, Lusk said. Providing enough accommodations for all the ATV tourists has been a challenge.
“Our glass ceiling is really capacity,” Lusk stated. “In a given weekend here in October, we’ve got more people coming here than we’ve got places for them to stay.”
Big pickup trucks hauling trailers loaded with ATVs have become a common sight along Route 52 in Mercer County and other roads near the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. Entrepreneurs along the trail system have taken advantage of the ATV tourism traffic by offering lodging, food and other services.
“We see it every day when we meet all of the trailers,” Mayor Louise Stoker of Bramwell said. “We know they’re spending money in the county because we see them stopped at Grants (Supermarket) and all of the eateries on Bluefield Avenue, Bluewell and here in Bramwell.”
The trail has attracted visitors from across the United States and from overseas. Stoker said that Bramwell could count visitors from all 50 states when an ATV tourist from Hawaii arrived in 2018. Riders from U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and the nation of Costa Rica have come to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail along with Canadian tourists.
“What it has done for the economy here in southern West Virginia is beyond our expectations. We knew it was a good thing, but we never expected how well it was received and how it continued to grow,” Stoker said, adding that the Spearhead Trail in neighboring Tazewell County, Va. has grown out of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.
Trail passes for 2020 that celebrate the 20th anniversary are now being sold, Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau said.
“They came out at the perfect time so people can buy them for Christmas presents, and they’re good for the entire year,” Null said.
The fact the trail is approaching its 20th anniversary speaks for the tourism industry’s longevity in southern West Virginia, she stated.
There are plans for a celebration when next year’s Columbus Day Weekend arrives, Lusk said. The anniversary event will be held in the town of Gilbert in Mingo County, one of the counties where the Hatfield-McCoy Trail started.
“Actually, they’re going to do a huge celebration,” Lusk said. “It’s going to be mapped out around our Trail Fest event.”
Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, http://www.bdtonline.com