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Groups see ATV trails as anchor to economy

By Fred Pace

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — More initiatives to build upon the tourist draw fostered by the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trails in the southern part of West Virginia are taking shape.

One involves the West Virginia Community Development Hub, a nonprofit group based in Clarksburg, working with several communities in the southern coalfields to develop strategies for gaining economically from the trail system. Also stepping up is Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College, which has launched two new programs aimed at boosting the economy in that region and providing training that could yield related job opportunities.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails system is made up of over 700 miles of trails in southern West Virginia. As one of the largest off-highway vehicle trail systems in the world, Hatfield-McCoy Trails is open 365 days a year and offers something for every skill level. It already has a sizable economic impact on that region and the state as a whole, and the recent and new efforts are aimed at expanding that.

Over the past year, the West Virginia Community Development Hub has been working to foster entrepreneurship in communities throughout West Virginia, and one place where it’s throwing its efforts is the southern part of the state.

Among the targeted areas are the communities of Alderson and Madison and the counties of McDowell, Lincoln and Wyoming.

“Here at The Hub, we’ve seen energy around new business in the recreation and tourism sectors skyrocket,” said Dan Taylor, entrepreneurial communities program coordinator for the group, which has been around more than 10 years.

“We have been working all over the state to help communities that may not have the capacity or resources to do community type projects,” he said.

Taylor works in the coalfield communities in southern West Virginia to help diversify their economies by working with community folks.

One of The Hub’s projects involves the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trails.

“As people come to ride the trail, they are also looking for other recreational activities,” Taylor said. “So we are working with communities in southern West Virginia with natural assets like trails and waterways to create these recreational opportunities for visitors.”

Taylor says The Hub’s Innovation Acceleration Strategy (IAS) program is a year-long, community-based economic diversification planning process.

“The West Virginia Community Development Hub will be working with five communities in Southern West Virginia who are ready, willing and able to start identifying what they want to see in their community and planning on how to grow and build these sectors,” he explained.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails range from the scenic mountain views of Pinnacle Creek, to the tight and twisting trails of Bearwallow. Many trails connect to West Virginia’s “ATV friendly towns” where visitors can grab a bite to eat and add to the local economy, Taylor said.

Taylor says his group also has seen land-based trail projects around hiking and biking from The Hub’s previous innovation acceleration program in communities from Boone County to Wyoming County.

“With an uptick in resources available to communities as well as through things like the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program, which has put $92 million within the past year into the region for economic development, it is important for residents here to know about what is available and be able to connect with these opportunities to grow not only their local economy but their own prosperity,” Taylor added.

Just last month at a convening of POWER grantees in Huntington, Jeff Lusk, director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, which operates the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, said the ARC’s $1.3 million POWER grant to that organization will be used to help expand tourism-related business opportunities along the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.

“We look forward to seeing what additional helpful resources are on the horizon for our region when it comes to growing our recreation and tourism economy,” Taylor said.

Economic impact

In the summer of 2014, Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research completed an updated economic impact study for the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.

Hatfield-McCoy Trails for day-to-day operations generated an additional $1.6 million in economic activity within the state, for a total operational impact of $3.3 million, according to the report.

Even more notably, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails bring non-local visitors to the area whose spending is estimated to generate an additional $19 million in economic activity in West Virginia.

Together, the total estimated economic impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails is more than $22 million.

The economic activity generated by the Hatfield-McCoy Trails’ operations and visitors also yields tax revenues. The trails impact the state and local tax base by nearly $120,000 annually, the report stated.

When considering the estimated total employment sustained by the presence of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, an annual state and local tax benefit of more than $455,500 is estimated.

An additional fiscal benefit to the state of more than $1.5 million is estimated as a result of non-local visitor spending while visiting the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

In addition to providing data for estimating the visitor spending impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, the rider survey included in the report indicated largely positive experiences among riders.

“The vast majority of respondents reported a good or excellent experience with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails overall, and more than 97 percent of riders surveyed would recommend the trails to others,” the report stated.

Entrepreneurship center

Also with an eye toward partnering with the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trails system is Kristina Oliver, who this month accepted the position of program administrator for Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College’s new Entrepreneurship and Business Coaching Center.

“I am reaching out to businesses, West Virginia small-business champions, economic developers, resource partners and service providers regarding a new initiative that I am excited to lead,” she said.

Oliver said the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in partnership with Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College, the Natural Capital Investment Fund and West Virginia State University have created an entrepreneurial training and business coaching program in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

“The project, which was funded by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission through the Power Plus initiative, will increase tourism and entrepreneurship in southern West Virginia to create a sustainable tourism-based economy,” Oliver explained.

She said this initiative focuses on a nine-county region of the state, including Boone, Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, Lincoln, Wayne, Kanawha, McDowell and Mercer counties.

“I have much respect and admiration for the great work being done by many organizations and entities throughout West Virginia to help increase small-business success,” she said. “With this new center, we will offer business coaching, targeted consulting and impactful training to help existing businesses and to help encourage new business growth.”

Technology program

Last year, the college launched a Powersports Technology Program to teach students to service, repair and maintain a variety of power sports equipment such as motorcycles, ATVs UTVs and personal watercraft.

“The program graduates are prepared to be entry-level technicians and most often work as service technicians, but may also find employment as service writers, parts department personnel and sales staff,” Oliver said.

The full Powersports Technology Program is available on the Boone/Lincoln Campus. The Logan, Williamson and Wyoming/McDowell campuses offer the general education/program support courses only.

For more information about this program, email [email protected].

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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