BRAMWELL , W.Va. — Most small towns in the region are usually quiet on a typical fall Sunday afternoon, with few people walking around or stopping at stores.
That is not so for Bramwell, a small Mercer County town that is benefiting from a big, growing tourism trend: ATV trails.
On Sunday afternoon, people were walking on Main Street, talking to each other, filling the only restaurant that was open, sitting on benches and generally enjoying the afternoon.
And almost all of them were taking a break from riding their ATVs and motorcycles on the nearby Hatfield-McCoy Trails system.
Chili Castanier of Atlanta said he was there with eight of his friends from around the country, including Chicago, Minneapolis and Houston. The group was getting ready to have lunch at the Bramwell Main St. Eatery. The town’s other restaurant, the Corner Shop, is closed on Sundays.
“We’ve being doing this for six or seven years,” he said of meeting in West Virginia to ride the Hatfield-McCoy trails. “We come twice a year and spend five days each time.”
All but one in the group are commercial airline pilots and have connections mostly through college and families.
Castanier said they go to Gilbert, W.Va. in June and to the Bramwell area in October, staying at the Ashland Resort in nearby Crumpler.
“We are family, not just friends,” he said of the group, who also ski together.
Castanier describes the trails here as the “best on the East Coast” and said they will continue to come back each year.
He also likes the people in the area.
“They are fantastic,” he said. “People here are very nice.”
Another of the group, Cameron Pegler of Houston, is from Great Britain and has lived in this country for 16 years. He is the only one of the group who is not a pilot, but he’s working on it, and he’s the only one who rides a motorcycle on the trails.
““My life took off when I met these guys,” he said. “I love coming here and the trails are good, the tracks (made by ATVs) are really good for a motorcycle.”
Riding is a little rougher when it’s raining, but otherwise great, he added.
John Bodolato of Maryland, just north of Baltimore, also rides a motorcycle on the trails.
“This is my second time here,” he said. “I like it a lot.”
He described the conditions of the trails (other than on a rainy, muddy trail) as “excellent for motorcycles.”
Bodolato was there with his friends, Tristan Epler and his father Chad Epler, also of Maryland. They had just finished having the buffet at the Eatery.
Tristan Epler said he has been riding an ATV for six years and he “loves” visiting this area.
“The quality of the trails is excellent,” Chad Epler said.
He also likes the people.
“Everybody here is super nice,” he said. Adding that he and his son have been coming here for several years, three or four times a year.
They and Bodolato stay at the Hampton Inn in Princeton and are usually here for “long weekends.”
Jess and Stephanie Perdue and their friends Jason and Heather McCorkle, all from Reidsville, N.C., may stay a long weekend, and maybe a week.
“We’ve been coming up here for eight years,” Jess Perdue said of himself and his wife, “usually four or five times a year.”
The quality of the trails is one of the reason he keeps coming back.
“The trails are absolutely wonderful,” he said. “They are great. Nothing else compares to them.”
Perdue said they used to stay at resorts but this year they stayed at the Jones Mansion in Mayberry, and often stay more than a long weekend.
“It’s beautiful,” he said of the house. “We have tried to get a room there for a year and finally got one this year. You have to know somebody.”
Perdue said when they visit they routinely spend money at local restaurants, shops and grocery stores.
“We love the food here (at the Bramwell restaurants),” he said.
Heather McCorkle said this is her second year coming with her husband.
“I love it,” she said. “I also love this area.”
“I like the markings on the trails,” Jason McCorkle said. “The maps are good and they (the trail builders) really thought out the scenario.”
They all said they will continue to come back and Perdue said he is looking at opportunities in the area as far as starting an ATV-related business.
He also said the $50 a year permit to ride the trails is a “bargain” compared to the cost of riding trails in other areas.
“They have a gold mine here (with the trails) if they keep it up,” he said, adding that even big NASCAR names like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have reportedly brought their crews up to the area for ATV vacations.
Perdue also told Castanier about the nearby Spearhead Trail system (starts in Pocahontas, Va.), which Castanier said he did not know about.
That is another system that is drawing in more and more riders and continuing to grow. Castanier said he and his friends would look into riding on that system as well.
Lauren Petrelis, who works at the Bramwell Main St. Eatery which belongs to her mother, said the ATV riders are giving the restaurant and the other business they own, Blue Moon Gifts in Bramwell, a huge boost.
“More than half our customers in the restaurant are ATV riders,” she estimated. “A large part of the merchandise we sell in the Blue Moon is related to the Hatfield-McCoy trail.”
October and November are the best months for business, she said, because more ATV riders visit.
“They like to ride in the cooler weather,” she said, “and there usually is not as much rain.”
Petrelis said her family has owned the buildings that house the businesses for about 10 years and had rented them out, but took them back over three or four years ago.
Word of mouth has also carried to area residents who are not ATV riders.
Lisa Lacy of Bluefield and Debbie Boyle of Bluewell and their husbands were having lunch in Bramwell Sunday afternoon.
“We’ve been doing this (coming to Bramwell for lunch on Sunday) for about three years,” Lacy said. “My husband worked on some houses (renovations) down here and he told me about it.”
Lacy said the food is great as is looking around town.
“Well worth the trip,” she said.
Boyle agreed, adding that she has also eaten at the Corner Shop.
“I like the food in both restaurants,” she said.
For Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, all of this is evident in the numbers.
“October is our largest month of the year for visitors,” he said. “It has a lot to do with the temperature and the beautiful fall foliage. Resorts, hotels and restaurants will be full of ATV riders on the trails.”
Lusk said between Sept. 15 and Nov. 1 about 8,000 trail permits are expected to be issued, not to mention the thousands already purchased that will bring people in.
“We have a calendar year where we are looking at being at or above last year, which was a record year in issuing permits with about 37,000 purchased,” he said. “We are hoping to get 40,000 this year.”
July and August were “soft” months this year due to the flooding in the Greenbrier Valley region, he said, because people may have been reluctant to come not knowing exactly what the situation was.
“But September was very strong and October will be better than last year,” he said. “We expect a very strong fall.”
Lusk also said it’s the norm to find people from out of state on the trails.
“Eighty percent of our riders are coming from out of state,” he said. “The overnight stays are averaging three nights and they average coming back three times during the year. The normal trend is to arrive on Thursday and leave on Sunday.”
But Lusk said permit sales to area residents is picking up.
“We are growing in visitors from Mercer County and McDowell County,” he said. “Mercer County is leading permit sales growth (in this region).”
As the number of visitors grow, so do the businesses that need to accommodate them, he said.
“You would be very hard-pressed to find lodging at any of the resorts,” he said.
The Hatfield-McCoy Trails system is a multi-county project, including Logan, Kanawha, Wyoming, McDowell, Mercer, Wayne, Lincoln, Mingo and Boone counties. It has almost 700 miles of trails.
Visit the website at trailsheaven.com for all information on trails, resorts and other details.
Visit spearheadtrails.com for information on that system.
— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]