Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 24, 2013

Trail growth

More visitors for Mercer, McDowell

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Good news continues to roll into the region courtesy of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. As the six-county trail system gears up for its peak riding season, trail officials are reporting a welcomed increase in permit sales for Mercer and McDowell counties.

Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority, said permit sales are up for the first full spring for the new Pocahontas Trail, which opened 11 months ago in Mercer County. In neighboring McDowell County, the authority is reporting an impressive 25 percent increase in permit sales. And overall permit sales across the six-county trail system are up 2 percent from the last quarter.

“These are the second and third largest riding months of the year with October being the first,” Lusk said last week. “Overall, our permit sales in both Mercer and McDowell are up tremendously from last year. The Bramwell system wasn’t open last year, so this is our first spring for them.”

Lusk notes that April and May are two of the biggest riding months of the year for the trail system. And the more permits that are sold, the more out-of-town visitors we can expect to see across Mercer and McDowell counties. That, in return, means additional revenue for area convenience stores, gas stations, hotels and motels, bed and breakfast facilities, ATV shops, department stores and malls. It’s the best kind of home-grown tourism that the six southern West Virginia counties can possibly hope for.

Lusk believes the trail system as a whole is headed for a new ridership record by the end of spring. He adds the trail system has seen growth ever year since 2006 — including during the Great Recession.

Bramwell Mayor Lou Stoker said the town has already seen a significant increase in the number of riders each weekend this spring. She believes the numbers will continue to grow as we head into summer.

“We see the population of the town explode during the weekends,” Stoker said. “Friday and Saturday are probably the biggest days.”

Last weekend, Stoker said she saw license plates from 10 different states.

Businesses both in and outside of the municipal limits of Bramwell are benefiting from the increased number of visitors. Both restaurants and convenience stores in the town are reporting an increase in business.

One local business sold $1,000 worth of trail permits in one Saturday morning alone. And establishments in Bluewell, Bluefield and Princeton are also seeing increased sales because out-of-town visitors are stopping at restaurants and stores in those areas before coming to the trail, Stoker adds.

The growth we are seeing along the trail system in Mercer and McDowell counties is welcomed, and should continue throughout the spring and summer. However, challenges remain, including the need for additional campsites, bed and breakfast facilities and lodging rooms for the off-road visitors. The new ATV lodge planned at the old Bramwell High School will most certainly help, but additional lodging facilities are still needed across the 600-mile trail system. Without the additional beds, tourism growth potential along the trail system will continue to be stymied.