The Mountain Trails Off-Road Association (MTORA) is a new club. Actually, that's an understatement-it's just over one year old. The club began when fewer than a dozen riding buddies got together for pizza.
"Well, Dellis [Hensley] and I thought we had the right idea last year," said club secretary (and the Pennington Gap postmaster) Mitch Ewing. "We wanted to put a club together which would draw members from the entire county."
In February 2006, a small group gathered at the local pizza parlor to talk about forming the club. "We started out with eight or 10 people, and now we're up to 117," Ewing explained.
And what magic was performed to help the club grow so quickly? An article in the local weekly newspaper didn't hurt. And word of mouth has been a great way to recruit members.
"We pick up a lot of people just doing this," trails chairman Alan Russell said. "We're riding through the mountains, and they see our club T-shirts. ... Everyone will stop and say, 'Where you been ridin'? You should come ride with us.'"
The club has mostly utility quad riders, with a few sport quads mixed in. The ages of members range from seven-year-old Jesse Bailey (who's "crazy about riding")to 70-year-old Harry Crider.
Perhaps part of the reason that the club is so prolific is its location. Western Virginia exists right in the middle of some of the country's most popular ATV destinations. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System is only about a three-hour drive away, Windrock riding area, near Knoxville, Tennessee, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and the Brimstone Recreation Area, near Huntsville, Tennessee, takes just over two hours.
In addition to lots of riding areas, there are a bunch of large, well-established clubs nearby. One of those is the Daniel Boone Trailblazers ATV Club, which has more than 650 members.
"The MTORA is a spectacular club which supports charities such as Juvenile Diabetes," said Lisa Marcum, a Trailblazer club officer.
"They helped us break the Guiness Book of World Records for most ATVs in a parade," added Preston McClain of the Harlan County Ridgerunners (869 members). "We work together well."
Like most ATV riders in this part of the world, the MTORA crew rides mainly on private land. Some of the trails are on roads that are listed as state-maintained. These roads are actually trails that have to be cared for by the club, but the fact that they are designated as such makes them open to use.
The only designated off-road area in Virginia is located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, near Roanoke. The club is just getting started on an initiative to open a state-sanctioned ATV riding area in Lee County. In a letter to the MTORA publicity chairman Scott Tipton, the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant indicated that they would be looking at creating a new ATV riding area in southwest Virginia. "Based on these comments, the 2007 Virginia Outdoors Plan recommends that ATV trail systems be developed in the Southwest," Bryant wrote. "It is also specifically mentioned that Lee County would be a good location."
A feasibility study is well on its way in the area, and local land and business orders are supportive of the new ATV trail system and working to develop a grant proposal.
"I feel that this trail system is a huge economic and recreational development," said Tina Rowe, the Pennington Gap town manager, "I look forward to its progress."
The MTORA group hosts informal trail rides nearly every weekend, as well as poker runs and a tractor pull. The events often benefit local groups. In May, it raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Association, while the proceeds from another event were donated to the local VFW. The local community is generous and supportive of these efforts, and club members get good responses from a wide variety of businesses.
"We had tons of sponsors for the Veteran's Day event," club president Steve Bailey said.
"ATV shops, beauty shops, flower shops, everything," Hensley added. "Mitch won a free hair care kit."
His last comment brought a laugh, as Ewing had shaved off most of his hair.
One of club's favorite places to ride is an area it calls Stone Mountain, not farfrom the town of Rose Hill, Virginia, comprised of rugged, rocky trails. The trails are actually designated as state-maintained roads, but the club does the maintenance to keep these trails open. That work paid off this spring, when a wildfire came through the area. The roads provided a firebreak.
"You can see where the mountain was on fire. The forestry department said the road had a lot to do with stopping the fire. The fact we kept the road cleaned out helped, too," Russell said.