MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County Commission President Ed Hawkins has big plans for economic development in North Central West Virginia, and support from the state legislature could make his plan a reality in the next few years.
Hawkins believes that a multi-county mountain bike trail would attract a wide range of visitors, not only to the trail itself but also to the existing businesses that the region already has to offer.
Currently, Moab, Utah attracts the largest portion of mountain bikers, with visitors traveling a minimum of four hours to the park’s trail.
“Consider how far you could make a circle of four hours to Morgantown,” Hawkins said. “If you look at this, you’re going to have a phenomenal amount of people that you could attract to this area by mountain biking, and it is a source of income that I think we could possibly exploit. We could be a destination point for tourism. This could be big.”
Hawkins has already voiced this idea at Monongalia County Commission meetings, and most recently, met with Monongalia County Del. Joe Statler to discuss its potential.
“And what we discussed was trying to see if we couldn’t get an adaptation of the statute that was adopted for the Hatfield-McCoy trail, similar only for mountain biking, which would hold the property owners that the trail might cross not liable for anything that might occur on the property.”
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System connects nine counties in the southern portion of the state, which is the kind of inter-connected system Hawkins has in mind for the northern region.
“There’s no reason why we can’t incorporate seven or eight counties,” he said. “You can use any way or any landing point that you want. The thing that holds the trail back in the southern part of the state, quite frankly, is the lack of hotels and motels that you have to stay in if you choose to visit there.”
Although a large portion of mountain bikers choose to camp along the trail, Hawkins suspects need may rise for hotels and motels.
“But the economic impact that you could possibility have with the money that comes in from tourism,” he said. “Generally their stay is between two and three days, and they’re usually going to eat somewhere.”
In addition to hotel accommodations, Hawkins said the potential impact on local businesses goes much deeper.
“The parks there (in Utah) are beautiful, but there’s nothing there,” he said. “You’ve got a park to ride a bike in, but there’s no amenities around the park systems that they have out there. You could create something that has all of the amenities here. All of the craft breweries, everything that we could encompass, all of the things that you could visit in West Virginia. Wow.”