Growth is on the menu for the Hatfield-McCoy Trails with a new trail system coming in the form of the Ivy Branch project as well as connectors which will hook up existing towns and systems to each other so riders will have even more reasons to come back to West Virginia for more fun in the hills.
Last year the Hatfield-McCoy Trails sold 33,000 permits to riders, most of whom were out-of-state. Studies have shown that most riders who come stay around three to four days while in the area and members of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority hope that by growing the trails and expanding them across the region it will bring even more tourists who will stay longer and spend more money while in the mountains.
The Ivy Branch Trail System will be primarily located in Lincoln County, but it will butt up against Boone County as well and be very close to one of the first trail systems, Little Coal River. Little Coal has a lot of easy terrain and is somewhat landlocked, which lead to the idea of building another system close by.
“Only a river separates Boone and Lincoln County so we are getting an engineer to design us a beautiful bridge to connect Little Coal to Ivy Ridge,” Deputy Director John Fekete said. “This is gonna be a very big deal for us and our riders will love it.”
HMT currently has seven trails in six counties in Southern West Virginia with more on the way. There are nine counties represented on the Board of Directors. Logan County has two trail systems, Bearwallow and Rockhouse and Logan will see a connector coming to the town hooking up the trails with the FountainPlace Plaza soon.
Bearwallow and Rockhouse will also get a connector making it possible to ride from Logan to Gilbert on ATVs, UTVs and dirt bikes. Trials in Matewan, Delbarton, Gilbert and Williamson will also be connected.
Fekete said one major reason for the Fountain Place Connector is a need for lodging for trail riders. Riders like to be able to ride to a trail from hotels and lodges and the connector will make that possible. Fekete said the new hotel in the city of Logan should also be a major help. “I hope the Candlewood Suites is a big success,” he said of the hotel located across from Subway on Stratton Street in Logan. The new connector will be located close to Route 73, on a bench above the highway. Fences will keep riders away from the main road.
“Our next connector project is from Man to Gilbert,” he said. “When you can connect two large systems together that is a big thing for the riders. That trail system will connect with Matewan eventually. That will be a lot of miles to keep people longer and coming back for more.”
It is not always easy to deal with those kinds of projects, Fekete noted, as they spread across a region. “I may be in Boone County tomorrow and Mercer County the next day,” he explained on Feb. 18. “We have six counties online now and three more are in the development stage.
Fekete said that the initial goal of having 2000 miles of trails through Southern West Virginia is over 50 percent complete.
“When Ivy Branch is open we will have 700 miles of trails total for our riders,” he added. “And in time we will have more; maybe even more than 2,000.
Other states have noted HMTs success and are paying attention.
“Our Executive Director Jeff Lusk has met with representatives from the state of Virginia several times and representatives from the Commonwealth of Kentucky have come to see us a few times. I think you will start seeing trails in Virginia in the next two to five years and there are some trail systems in Kentucky right now.”
Fekete said growth is important to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails for one simple reason- it gives the riding public more to do and it brings them back for more visits and visits where they stay longer- and spend money which benefit’s the local economy.
Fekete is also working on the Hatfield-Cemetery project, which will see a spur built to the trails allowing people access to that part of Route 44. A parking lot area will be built so visitors can park their and walk up the hill to see the famed monument to Devil Anse Hatfield.
“We are working with the Logan County Commission, the Hatfield McCoy Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and land owners on this project,” he said. “This came about 100 percent because of the massive interest shown by the public following the Hatfield-McCoy mini-series on the History Channel. Within days there were dozens and dozens of people going up to the cemetery to see the monument.”
Several different groups of people worked on cleaning the cemetery up to show Logan County’s best side to visitors, Fekete noted, adding that when the Department of Highways was asked about putting signs up in the area they were told a parking lot would be needed.
“I think this will be another big draw,” Fekete said. “This area needs people who believe in it and who are willing to invest in it.”
Fekete noted that the town of Gilbert was a great example as was the Twin Hollow cabins.
“Wayne Ellis really showed how to do it,” he said.
Fekete said the other big change HMT has seen besides growth has been the change in demographics of riders.
“Originally it was a guy thing,” he said, explaining that groups of men came to the mountains to go four wheeling and dirt biking. “But side by side machines have changed that. Now it’s a family thing and people come with their families to ride.”
Ironically Fekete started at the bottom at Hatfield-McCoy, today’s Deputy Director used to be an intern when he was attending Marshall University when he first began working for the trails 13 years ago.