By CHARLES BOOTHE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WAR, W.Va. — Not only will the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail System see a record year for 2017, more growth is expected in 2018 as about 100 miles of new trails will be added in McDowell County.
Construction is under way on the Warrior Trail System, said Jeff Lusk, executive director of the system’s authority.
“The trailhead is in the town of War at Big Creek school,” he said. “It will connect the towns of War and Gary and the City of Welch. Simultaneously, we are working on a connection from our Indian Ridge system to Welch.”
Lusk said several trail systems will be interconnected in and around McDowell County, including Mercer and Wyoming counties, and the towns of Bramwell, Pineville and Mullins.
The new Warrior Trail system should be open by Labor Day, he added.
“It’s going to be a fantastic year for the whole area,” he said, adding that 70 percent of the growth in use of the Hatfield-McCoy system is being seen in McDowell and Mercer counties, and many of those riders are from North Carolina.
“The market share (of trail permit sales for out-of-state riders) in North Carolina has moved from fifth to second,” he said, with Ohio still holding down the number one spot.
That has helped create a busy 2017.
Lusk said the original projection for the growth in the number of permits sold to ride the trail systems was at 7 1/2 percent, which would bring the number beyond 42,000 for the first time.
“But we moved that projected growth to 12 percent based on the half-year point (in July),” he said, adding that the 12 percent has already been reached. “We passed that the first part of December.”
The numbers won’t be complete until the end of the year, but Lusk said permits sold could top 45,000.
“We are really looking forward for a great year (for 2018).” he said. “We are optimistic we are embarking on another significant year in growth. Everything points to that so far.”
That is true especially considering the advertising for the Hatfield-McCoy Trail systems planned.
“We have a $1 million marketing campaign planned for the trail system,” he said.
However, growth is bringing challenges.
People who visit the area to ride their ATVs need accommodations, he said, and a shortage of lodging is an ongoing issue.
“That growth hinges on entrepreneurs stepping up and getting it done,” he said of the need for accommodations, including cabins and campgrounds. “The single biggest obstacle we have in growing our trail system is our capacity to accommodate visitors with regard to lodging.”
Lusk said the numbers of places to stay are growing, but new ones are needed and expansions of existing facilities are needed as well because it’s a year-round business, with cold weather not keeping the ATV riders away.
One local lodging facility owner, Seth Peters, who owns Buffalo Trails in Bluewell, said recently even the holiday season is busy.
His business was “totally sold out” for the Thanksgiving weekend.
“Every cabin and RV site (was reserved),” Peters said. “They are almost all ATV riders. Probably 150 are ATV riders. This year, Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be more busy than before. All three-day weekends are pretty big. It’s been a very busy year for us. One family booked for five Thanksgivings to come.”
Nearby Bramwell is also reaping the benefits of the ATV riders.
“The ATV business is our present and our future,” Bramwell Mayor Lou Stoker said recently. “This is a place that people can come to recreate on their ATVs. They can also park, walk around and enjoy not only the wonderful food, but the history, the museum, our houses and the friendly people.”
Stoker said the ATV riders “keep coming back” and it would be “hard to know” how many because they come and go year-round.
Stoker said the town is seeing more tax revenue and businesses are thriving.
“All the businesses here are doing well,” she said. “We have a couple of buildings for sale and we would like to see entrepreneurs come in and purchase those and put businesses in them.”
Most of the entrepreneurs who are starting businesses related to the trail are from out of state, Lusk said, and that is something he would like to see change.
“We are seeing more non-resident investments on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system than resident investment,” he said. “Of the last five new developments on the trail system … only one was a West Virginia resident. The other four were from out of state.”
Programs are in place to help local entrepreneurs, he said.
One of those is the Entrepreneurship and Business Coaching Center.
Kristina Oliver, administrator for the program, said it’s a joint effort between Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and the trail system with funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission POWER initiative.
“We want to do this because of the success of the trail system and the need for engaging entrepreneurs and reengaging small businesses in Southern West Virginia,” she said. “What we do is provide businesses coaching and technical assistance.”
A way to help with the financial side of the equation is also available, she said, with the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) loan fund, created specifically for the Hatfield-McCoy region.
“They are loans, not grants,” she said. “But it is structured to be a little more friendly to startup businesses.”
Lusk is optimistic the growth of businesses to accommodate the continuing increase in the number of trail users will pick up.
“We have seen some great investments and there is a lot in the hopper,” he said.
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail system starts in Mercer County with the Pocahontas Trail and runs through six counties in Southern West Virginia on almost 700 miles of trails.
Each person riding, including passengers, must have a permit to ride the seven trails in the system.
West Virginia residents pay $26.50 for an annual permit while out-of-state residents pay $50 for the permit.
Permits for 2018 are on sale now. Visit the website at trailsheaven.com for information on how to obtain a permit.
Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]
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