BLUEWELL, W.Va. — A canopy of oaks and poplars hover over the authentic, yet high-tech cabins dotting a mountaintop in western Mercer County. It’s a playground for tourists who want to commune with nature while getting an adrenaline rush on all-terrain vehicles, and a weekend destination for locals searching for a great dinner served in a pristine, natural setting.
It is Buffalo Trail Resort — a place where primitive and high-tech culture blend in a visceral setting of ATV engines, treehouses and a pasture with a bull who enjoys taking selfies with the ladies.
Opening Memorial Day weekend in 2014, Buffalo Trail has had notable expansion in its three years of business.
“We’ve experienced at least a 50 percent growth each year,” owner Seth Peters said. “Of course, we’ve added a lot of units each year.”
Buffalo Trail started out with 10 units on the main property and a restaurant. “The first full year — 2015 — we added the microbrewery and 11 rustic treehouses,” Peters said. “In 2016 we added nine additional cabins and four ultimate treehouses.”
The resort now boasts seven tiny sky houses, four additional recreational vehicle sites and a welcome center, which sits at the intersection of Route 52 and Lorton Lick Road.
“We’re kind of, at this point, growing to fill the need,” Peters said. “Next year’s plans are from what guests this season say they want.”
Peters said the resort averages 150 guests in a weekend, and about 7,500 in a year. Most of those guests — 97 to 98 percent — are from out of town.
Peters said most visitors at the resort are from North Carolina, but “Pennsylvania and Ohio are close behind.”
“We had one guest fly in from England,” he said.
Canadians are also frequent visitors. Peters said one recent guest resides near the Canadian-Alaskan border and drove 23 hours — one way — to stay at the resort.
While modern cabins greet diners visiting for an evening dinner, a short drive on a gravel-and-dirt road at the back of the main resort takes guests on a scenic route speckled with cabins on the ground and in the air.
Of the 26 cabins on the resort grounds, every one is different. All have a full kitchen or kitchenette. New cabins are larger, and all have big-screen TVs. The property is wired for wifi.
Buffalo Trail’s largest cabin has 18 beds and sleeps 22 people.
The treehouses and cabins feature modern amenities but rustic decor. “It feels like you’re out in the woods, but you still have wifi,” Peters said.
Rustic wood used on the property buildings is obtained from Wayne Bennett, who has a sawmill in Kegley.
Ultimate treehouses have full bathrooms and all amenities. “They are bolted to the tree but a (specialty) pad allows it to move and allows the tree to keep growing,” Peters said. “You can feel it sway in the wind.”
All units have outdoor fire pits, grills and corn hole boards, and all are pet friendly.
Rustic cabins have electricity and lights, but no air conditioning. However, they are located in the midst of groves of oak, poplar, maple and more.
“It’s nice to have a hardwood canopy,” Peters said, while standing cool in the shadow of the hardwoods at high-noon on a summer day.
Some of the treehouses are stand-alone structures while others are grouped and open up to a common deck. Peters said this allows visiting families to have their own space, in addition to a place to socialize with family and friends.
One area of the resort is named Memorial Valley and has treehouses named in memory of deceased relatives and friends.
A stately elevated cabin nestled by West Virginia woodland is dubbed “Papa’s Shine Shack” in honor of beloved Bluewell resident “Papa Dink” Shrader.
In addition to hosting visitors to the ATV trails, Buffalo Trail is also becoming an event destination.
“Last year, we had 17 wedding events, which included not just ceremonies but rehearsals, bridal showers and receptions,” Peters said. “We’ve had seven this year, and have events booked up to 2019.”
The resort also hosted many Christmas parties.
“We do a lot of reunions,” Peters said. “This past weekend we probably had 50 guests for a family reunion.”
New specialty decks allow the restaurant to host simultaneous special events. While the restaurant is open to customers, the decks provide space for private receptions.
“We have three private parties booked during this year’s coal show,” he said. “We were full during the last coal show.”
The Buffalo Trail restaurant is open Thursday through Saturday for dinner. “We’ve increased seating capacity to 350,” he said. “We usually serve 400 to 500 customers a night.”
Buffalo Trail is built on 40 acres of family farm, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. “My kids are the fifth generation who grew up on the farm,” Peters said.
Peters previously had two businesses in North Carolina that specialized in building and remodeling national restaurant chains. His career in that line of work lasted 25 years.
“I sold my last business about a year ago,” he said. “This is my retirement business.”
Peters and his wife, Jenny, and their children moved back to the farm 12 years ago. Although Peters continued to commute to his North Carolina businesses, the family built a house and re-established ties to the area.
“That’s when we got the buffalo,” he said. “It was kind of an accident. We were looking to buy a herd of cattle, but they were expensive. We got the buffalo for about one-third of the price … just to keep the pasture clean. Now we serve buffalo in the restaurant.”
Currently the farm is home to a buffalo bull, 10 females and 10 babies.
Peters described the bull as a “3,000-pound baby who loves to get his picture taken.”
“He likes ladies and cameras. He likes selfies. But he’s not too fond of men,” Peters said.
Newer cabins at the resort border the buffalo pasture, and recently one family staying at the lodging saw a baby buffalo being born.
Peters is appreciative of the popularity of Buffalo Trail by visitors and tourists, and optimistic about future growth.
However, looking back, he concedes that he did not expect the phenomenal success.
Asked if he expected the tremendous popularity in his business, Peters replies, “Definitely not.”
— Contact Samantha Perry at [email protected]