LYBURN, W.Va. – Thirteen years after the first trail opened to the public, the Hatfield-McCoy trail system is growing by leaps and bounds. But one issue is holding things back
“Our annual permit sales are up this year 13 percent compared to last year and, with 81 percent of our riders being non-West Virginia residents, we’re really seeing a nice boost in tourism,” according to Jeff Lusk, the executive director of the trail system.
It’s now the largest managed trail system in the eastern U.S. and contains 600 miles of trails that connect to 11 incorporated towns. This year more than 35,000 ATV and UTV enthusiasts traveled the trails. There’s just one thing missing.
“The biggest, single challenge we have is we just do not have enough lodging right now along the trail system to accommodate the number of riders that want to come and visit our project,” stressed Lusk.
Currently there are 44 lodging providers that have opened up shop since 2000. That adds up to 1,000 beds. Unfortunately, according to Lusk, that’s still not enough.
“If you look at Gilbert you’ve got 13 lodging providers in or around the Gilbert area,” said Lusk. “If you go to Mullens, you don’t have any. And they are both connected to the trail system.”
He said Gilbert is reaping the benefits. Mullens is not.
“It’s just opportunity lost! I think that’s why we’re only up 13 percent and not 25 percent,” said Lusk.
He believes, if all the trail communities had lodging, the sky would be the limit for the trail system. However, he said, just like vacationing at the beach, if you can’t find a place to stay near the water, there’s no reason to go.
“If we don’t get more entrepreneurs to step up and build more lodging infrastructure, our growth is eventually going to level off,” stressed Lusk.
He says when the trail system first opened, it was mostly men coming out for a weekend ride. But now 30 percent of permit holders are women. Lusk said that’s two very different demographics.
“Men will endure a campsite or something more primitive. But when you go on your family vacation, you’re really looking for more higher end lodging,” stressed Lusk. “You’re looking for turn down service, you’re looking for cabins, you’re looking for amenities. It’s really raised the bar for our entrepreneurs because the product our customers are looking for is much more sophisticated and much more costly to develop.”
Lusk used Bramwell as an example. He says it’s a tiny town but the community now has three lodging options since the trail system opened. All three are ready to expand.
He believes the same success story could apply to communities like Mullins.
As for the future, four new trails are planned. The trail heads will be in Matewan, War, Oceana and East Lynn Lake.