In this feature, we take a look at one of the modern success stories of the off-road riding world, the Hatfield-McCoy trail system. Thanks to smart marketing and a well thought-out trail system, the trail is heralded as one of the premier riding destinations in America.
Johnny Adams is the mayor...
Johnny Adams is the mayor of Gilbert, a small town on the Browning Fork Trail system.
This past spring, the ATV rider crew attended the opening ceremonies for the Hatfield-McCoy's newest riding area, Pinnacle Creek. What we found is a new destination that adds another 100 miles of good trails to the country's best-known network, and a system that is a model for our riding future.
In 1999, Terry Fekete found his world turned upside-down when the hospital he'd worked for more than a decade was closed. New mining regulations had suddenly decreased the amount of strip mining being done in southern West Virginia, and his home town of Man was faced with a severe recession. Jobs were hard to come by, and Fekete was unexpectedly left without one.
The local economy's nosedive proved to be the catalyst that drove the creation of an off-road trail system. For this depressed region of West Virginia, building the Hatfield-McCoy was a way to bring in some badly needed tourist dollars.
The Hatfield-McCoy area offers...
The Hatfield-McCoy area offers five different riding areas.
The movement to take advantage of the area's rich riding resources began back in the early 1990s. Southern West Virginia is blessed with extensive areas of land that are too hilly and rocky to farm or even build. The area had hundreds of miles of country laced with logging and mining roads as well as informal trails, and organized rides in 1993 and 1995 drew 300 and 500 ATV riders. These rides proved to local leaders that there was plenty of interest in off-road trails.
The problem with riding the area is the bulk of the land is private.
The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, a public corporation, was created with the express purpose of making these private lands accessible to the public. The government-funded organization works with private owners of large tracts of land to create trail systems. The group seeks out landowners who hold large tracts of landfrom 3,000 to 50,000 acresand a licensing agreement is negotiated with landowners. Then existing trails are mapped using GPS equipment and topographical maps. Once a route is established, connecting trails are built to make loops. Water controls are built to prevent washouts, and the trails are marked with hundreds of carsonite signs. The final step is building the parking lots and facilities necessary for a trailhead. As of mid-2004, the group has five riding areas open, with about 500 miles of trail open for riding with a permit.
Breakfast at the Tape Hut...
Breakfast at the Tape Hut was one of the highlights of the trip.
The scenic and remote terrain...
The scenic and remote terrain in southern West Virginia is hilly, rocky and mostly hardwoods.
Trails on the Hatfield-McCoy...
Trails on the Hatfield-McCoy system are extremely well-marked and rated for difficulty.
By the time Terry Fekete lost his job in 1999, the organization was building four of the trail systems on private lands in the area. In fact, Terry's son, John, was spending his days scouting and connecting trails with a sophisticated GPS system and plenty of back-breaking labor.
"John kept telling me that I needed to open a restaurant or a motel," Terry said. "When my nursing job went away, I finally decided to believe him."
This place has clean rooms,...
This place has clean rooms, kitchenettes, and you can drive to the trail head.
Terry bought a small four-plex in Man, and renovated it into The Rockhouse Lodge. As the trail system became better known, Terry found himself booked full. Today, he bought an old railway station and has converted that into another lodge to meet the increasing demand from visiting off-road riders.
Terry also was active in a long, hard fight to bring a hospital back to Man. In fact, it appears that dream will come to fruition, but he won't be returning to that line of work.
"I couldn't go back to nursing," he said with a rueful grin. "It's hard on the knees and back, and I've gotten pretty used to running my own business."
Terry's story is only a small part of the success of the trail system. The system spans eight counties in the southern part of the state, and conservative estimates put tourism income as a result of the trail system at about $1 million per year. Six new outfitters have been created, along with seven campgrounds, two hotels, and three new cabin rental companies.
The streets are open to off-road...
The streets are open to off-road vehicles and the local businesses cater to the off-road crowd.
An ATV playground, the Rolling Thunder Extreme Race Park, has also opened, with a hillclimb and a dragstrip open to off-roaders.
This success is the result of a coordinated effort between the trail builders, community's opening the streets to ATV access, and local leaders joining together to make the region attractive to off-road riders.
The result of this is that the system has grown to support several popular ATV jamborees, Dirt Week and Dirty Days, and thousands of off-road riders each year. Support is growing for the Hatfield-McCoy, and corporate sponsors such as Kawasaki, Suzuki of America, and Coke. McDonald's even contributed in the past year.
Terry Fekete is the owner...
Terry Fekete is the owner of the Rockhouse Lodge.
"When McDonald's buys into a trail system," said Matt Ballard, the executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, "something's really right."
Riding the system is a joy. The trails offer a variety of challenges, and more casual trail riders can limit themselves to blue and green trails and find plenty of challenge. On the black sections, long, rocky climbs and descents will challenge experienced riders.
The system is well thought-out, with lots of options for loops. The trails are clearly marked, and the ratings make it easy to choose routes that are as easy or difficult as you desire.
The Hatfield-McCoy system is also still developing. The organizers have plans to expand from the existing 500 miles of trail to more than 2,000 miles in the coming years. This should drive more business to the area, and people like John and Terry Fekete will find themselves making a living off of our sport.
The Hatfield-McCoy is more than just a fun place to ride. The trail systems innovative use of private lands and public funding, along with the strong community support for the system and the financial rewards that have resulted are indicative of how our sport can thrive as the demands on our natural resources increase.
|Category ||Rating ||Comments |
|Place Visited|| ||Hatfield-McCoy Trail System |
|Location || ||Southern West Virginia |
|Riding Season || ||April through October |
|Maps Recommended|| ||Local trail maps |
|Area Information|| ||West Virginia Tourism (www.wva.state.wv.us/callwva) Southern West Virginia Visitor Information (www.visitwv.com) |
|Permits/Licenses Required|| ||Trail pass $18 one-day, $35 seven-day, $25 annual pass for WV residents and $75 annual pass for non-resident |
|Critters|| ||Deer, vulture, possum, black bear, wild boar |
|While You are There|| ||Rafting, hiking, hunting, some fishing |
|Best Local Beer|| ||Not muchthis is Budweiser country |
|Digs|| ||The Rockhouse Lodge, many moresee lodging section on www.trailsheaven.com |
|Good Eats|| ||The Tape Hut (breakfast), Tops, Fat Jacks |
|Useful Links|| ||Hatfield McCoy Trails Web site (www.trailsheaven.com) Rolling Thunder Extreme Race Park (www.rollingthunderracepark.com) |
|Technical Riding||9.4||Lots of rocks; long uphills and challenging descents |
|Quality of Riding||9.2||Great stuff |
|Scenery||8.5||Hilly, hardwoodsgorgeous country |
|Food||7.2||Decent steaks and breakfasts; not lots of choices |
|Accommodations||9.2||Rockhouse Lodge clean, new, nice and reasonablekitchenette and grilling area if you are so inclined |
|OVERALL RATING||8.7||One of the must-visit destinations for ATV riders |