CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What is billed as the best riding trails in the eastern United States continues to grow in stature and popularity. Permit sales on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System in southern West Virginia has already surpassed the record numbers of 2018 and the year isn’t over yet.

“Last year we sold 50,031 permits and we’re already over 53,000 annual permits this year and we’ve still got a couple of months left in the season,” said Hatfield-McCoy Trails Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk.

Lusk hoped they would be able to surpass 55,000 permits before the year is over. The bulk of riders on the trail are from out of state, but he added the number of in-state riders is starting to grow as well. More and more ATV and UTV enthusiasts from other parts of West Virginia have started to discover the coalfield region. Still, between 80 and 85 percent of the trail’s riders come from elsewhere.

“Our number one state is Ohio followed closely by Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia. It’s from those states you would imagine that flank us, but Ohio remains our number one state for permit sales,” Lusk added.

The trail has become a tourist draw to West Virginia and as investments are made the growth of the trail corresponds. More and more hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and other accommodations for trail riders are popping up. Lusk added the evolving technology of riding also impacted their growth.

“Certainly we have a fantastic product, but with the advent of the UTV the ‘Utility Train Vehicles’ we’ve seen a lot of people enter this sport that aren’t historic trail riders. They’re not folks who live rural and they’re not farmers and hunters. This sport is what they do for recreation.” he said.

The UTV is a much easier machine to operate for novice riders. It’s largely like a regular automobile with a steering wheel, automatic transmission, brake, and accelerator. They are also built to haul two, four, or even larger numbers of riders.

“Folks feel very comfortable in them and they’ve really brought a lot of people into this we historically haven’t seen before. They’re also drawing a lot of families into it. We’ll see one unit and we’ll sell four permits because all four members of a family are in that four seater,” said Lusk.

Planning and development of the trails continues. The next evolution will be the reopening of the Ivy Branch Trail System in Lincoln County just off Corridor G and the nearest system to Charleston. It’s slated to be open in the spring of 2020. The system was previously closed when the land was sold. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, using grants from the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund, have been able to buy back much of the property to insure it’s there for riders in perpetuity.

Lusk anticipated the growth will continue, since it hasn’t leveled off ever since the first trails were developed almost 20 years ago.

“We’ve grown every year in the last 19 years of existence. We’ve grown some every year, even back in 2009 when the country was in the Great Recession, we still saw growth. This year is going to turn out to be one of those great years and we expect to grow by about 5,000 riders,” he said.

Permits are good for a full year and the following year’s permits go on sale the week before Thanksgiving. If purchased on day one, the permits are good for 13 months. The cost is $26.50 for West Virginia residents and $50 for non-residents. You can also purchase them online at the Hatfield McCoy Trails website.