Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

July 3, 2013

If you build it — they will come, spend the night and leave happy

— — Imagine traveling to an amusement park, beach or tourist destination like Pigeon Forge, Tenn., only to realize once you arrived that there were no hotels, motels or lodging facilities to spend the night at. Would you be disappointed? Of course you would. And the odds are pretty good that you would leave the area disappointed.

Yes, there are hotels and motels galore in Pigeon Forge. And Pigeon Forge is a fantastic place to visit. But by comparison there isn’t such an influx of lodging facilities near Bramwell or Bluewell, or even in Bluefield. So imagine how visitors to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system must feel when they arrive in town. On any given weekend, most of the available rooms in Bramwell and Bluewell are already rented out. That means a lot of out-of-town visitors hoping to ride our new trails have to spend the night at hotels and motels along Exit 9 in Princeton. That, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s good business for the hotels and motels in the greater Princeton area. But some of the out-of-town visitors aren’t happy.

In fact, most visitors to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system prefer staying in a lodging facility — a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or campground — that is located adjacent to or in very close proximity to the actual trails, according to Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority Executive Director Jeff Lusk. Unfortunately, their options are still limited in Mercer County.

The new Pocahontas Trail system has now been open for 13 months, but only about 100 new beds have been added since that time. The number of new lodging facilities should be double or triple that number. As Lusk explains it, the trail system’s supply and demand is completely out of whack. The demand is high as the trail system continues to grow. But the supply, or available lodging sites, remains low.

Lusk says Mercer County is one of the most prosperous counties to house a section of the trail. That is why he is surprised that more entrepreneurs have not stepped forward to help with the lodging demand. He is also hopeful that county officials will take a more aggressive stance in attempting to attract and promote new hotels, motels, campgrounds and other lodging facilities in the county. Even getting a new hotel or motel in Bluefield would help with the demand, according to Lusk.

Are local officials doing enough to help bring new hotels, motels and ATV campgrounds to the area? That’s a good question considering that we are still facing a severe lodging shortage a good 13 months after the opening of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system.

Some developments underway will help — particularly the new ATV lodge planned at the old Bramwell High School. But more lodging facilities are needed, according to Lusk. And one of the greatest needs at the moment is a campground site for the off-road visitors. The Ashland Resort in neighboring McDowell County is a big draw for the off-road riders, and has provided a significant boon to the Indian Ridge segment of the trail system. Lusk is hoping that entrepreneurs will take note, and develop a similar camp ground near Bramwell to support the Pocahontas Trail system.

In the 1989 motion picture “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character (who went by the name of Ray Kinsella in the classic movie) hears a voice that famously whispers, “If you build it he will come.” In more recent years, the famous movie quote has been modified to say, “If you build it, they will come.” And it applies to what is happening today in Mercer County. We have built it. The trail system has been open for a good 13 months now. The out-of-town visitors have arrived. And they are coming by the hundreds upon hundreds each and every weekend. But many of these out-of-town visitors have no place to stay. And when they have no place to stay, that is lost tourism dollars for Mercer County. They won’t be spending the night in a hotel or motel. They won’t be eating breakfast the following morning at a local restaurant. They won’t be visiting local department stores and malls. It’s a terrible chain-reaction loss. And it’s happening right now in Mercer County.

The big question is why are we letting this happen? Why are local entrepreneurs not stepping up to the plate and taking advantage of this great need? And what are local officials doing to attract and recruit new lodging facilities to the region? Are we an ATV friendly county or not?

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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