By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Hoping to avoid a repeat of the ongoing lodging woes facing the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system, officials in Tazewell County are taking proactive steps to facilitate housing growth for the new Spearhead Trail system.
The long-planned, seven-county, Virginia-side off-road system is still a go — despite continuing land negotiations in Tazewell County. The Mountain View Trail segment in St. Paul in Wise County has already had a soft opening, and officials are hoping to begin construction on the Tazewell County leg of the trail system soon. It will be developed in two phases over 53 miles in the greater Pocahontas area. However, the county is still working to finalize a land agreement with one remaining property owner, according to Margie Douglas, tourism and economic development coordinator for Tazewell County.
Funding for the Pocahontas leg of the Spearhead Trail is already in place. The only thing lacking is the final land agreement before ground can be broken. But once construction begins, it won’t take long for the actual trail system to be finished. That’s why officials are wisely working on a plan now to try to drum up interest in new ATV-friendly lodging sites for the Pocahontas area.
Although a tremendous success story for southern West Virginia, housing — or the lack thereof — has remained a consistent problem for the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system. And the problem is particularly great in Mercer County where there currently isn’t enough available housing to meet the number of off-road visitors who are getting off of interstates 77 and 81, and traveling down U.S. Route 52 to Bramwell.
Since our last story on this topic, the newspaper has received a couple of calls from people who have expressed an interest in developing lodging or selling land near the trail system. We’ve referred those callers to Hatfield-McCoy Authority Executive Director Jeff Lusk. And a few others have called trying to sell property to those of us in the newsroom. (It’s important for readers to remember that we are simply writing the stories — we aren’t involved in the operation of the trail system.)
But both the Spearhead Trail and the Hatfield-McCoy Trail need lodging facilities. This includes motels, bed and breakfast establishments, ATV resorts and campgrounds.
The Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, and members of the Tazewell County Recreational Development Authority, will be holding a meeting on Thursday, July 25, in the conference room area of the county administration building in downtown Tazewell with individuals who are interested in or may be interested in building lodging or camping sites for the Spearhead Trail system.
County Administrator Jim Spencer also is actively soliciting entrepreneurs who are being encouraged to develop cabins and camping sites in the Boissevain area. That also will be discussed at the meeting on July 25. The county is hoping for a good turnout of entrepreneurs, property owners and others who may be interested in developing lodging sites in advance of the Spearhead Trail system.
It’s unfortunate that officials in Mercer County didn’t do the same thing a good two years ago before the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system opened near Bramwell. Had there been a proactive push by the commissioners in 2010 or even early 2011, the lodging situation in Mercer County could have been substantially improved.
But it’s never too late to do the right thing. Mercer County officials could still follow the lead of their Virginia-side counterparts and schedule a community meeting with potential entrepreneurs and other interested parties to address the need for additional lodging along the trail system. The county’s development authority, as well as both the Princeton and Bluefield chambers, should be invited to such a meeting. As well as city officials in Princeton and Bluefield, and community representatives from Bramwell and Bluewell.
So what are we waiting on? Sometimes it is OK to emulate another governing body if they are doing something right. And let’s face it — Tazewell County is largely basing the Spearhead Trail system on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system. So why not schedule a community meeting to address lodging needs in Mercer County, just as Tazewell County is doing with the Spearhead Trail system?
If we do nothing the lodging problem will continue. But if we take proactive steps and exercise good leadership, we can start working today to help correct this problem. If we don’t, the region will never realize the true tourism potential associated with the six-county trail system.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him @BDTOwens.