LOGAN, W.Va. — Ever since the Hatfield-McCoy Trail opened it has expanded non-stop. The idea for the trail was a quasi-government organization which enabled large land holding companies to allow for use of their land as an economic development tool for the entire region. Southern West Virginia has vast tracts of previously mined land available. It also has a substantial need to diversify the economy.
The trail idea has worked well. Thousands of riders, a large portion of which are out-of-state residents, come to West Virginia to ride their four wheelers, side-by-sides, dirt bikes etc. Most of those riders have nowhere to ride their machines back home and West Virginia’s hills make for a fantastic opportunity for a vacation. They not only bring their machines, but they bring their dollars. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations,and other businesses are starting to enjoy revenue by catering to these unique tourists.
The evolution of the trail system hasn’t been without its bumps. The trail management ran into a hiccup last year when an audit revealed the structure wasn’t exactly built the way it should be. There was a reorganization and now the management seems to be in line with how it should be. One big change was the elimination of the trail systems law enforcement arm. Those duties are now handed off to DNR law enforcement and the Hatfield-McCoy Trail pays the Division of Natural Resources for the service. The arrangement, which started in June, is handled in an identical manner to how the Parkways Authority hired the State Police to patrol the West Virginia Turnpike.
“That’s worked out very well,” said Director Jeff Lusk on last weekend’s edition of Northside Automotive West Virginia Outdoors. “It has also enabled hunters to actually use our trail to access their hunting areas. They can’t hunt on the trail right of way, but with the DNR patrolling it does allow them to use the trail to get to their hunting spot. It also allows the DNR to be patrolling those areas for game law violations as well as riding violations.”
The most recent blow for the system was the loss of two key trail systems. Next Monday the Little Coal River Trail System in Boone County and the Ivy Branch Trail System in Lincoln County will be closed. The land owner is in the process of selling the property. Lusk said they hope to meet with the new land owner and possibly reopen the system down the road.
“It takes a while to explain how it works to somebody whose unfamiliar with how we operate,” he said. “When you tell somebody you want to bring in outside people to ride four-wheelers on their land, there is understandably some hesitation. So there’s a learning curve.”
The benefits for a land owner have to be thoroughly explained, but clearly they are enough to coax some into allowing for a lease agreement. One of the big attractions for the landowner is liability insurance, which comes free of charge with the agreement.
“We’ve never had to pay a liability claim on the insurance,” said Lusk. “But it’s there just in case.”
The loss of the Little Coal River and Ivy Branch trails is a blow to the system’s northern area. About 200 miles of trail will be lost with their closure. The trail system will still have about 500 miles left, but that’s a substantial impact especially to those in the Charleston area and points north who may not have time to go all the way to Logan County or further to enjoy a day of riding. Hopefully, the two trails can eventually be reopened when the new property owner understands the impact.
I’m often amazed at how few West Virginia riders take advantage of the trails. A permit is only $26.50 for West Virginia residents and is good for a full calendar year. Since there’s no registration requirement, it’s hard to know just how many people in West Virginia own and ride four-wheelers, but it doesn’t take an audit to know it’s a huge number. They’re almost as popular as cars in the state. I’ve ridden several of the trails, including the Little Coal River Trail which is about to close. The riding is a blast and you see some unique countryside you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. West Virginia residents who enjoy riding should take a weekend and check out the system. It’s great fun and only a short drive away. People are coming from all over the east coast to enjoy the trails, I hope eventually West Virginians living north of Route 60 also realize the great opportunity in their own back yard.
Learn more about the trail at the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Website.