By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Hatfield-McCoy Trail permit sales are soaring in Mercer and McDowell counties and officials anticipate the number of visitors riding the trails to increase as the spring continues.
Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority, said permit sales are up for the first full spring for the Pocahontas Trail in Mercer County and permit sales for McDowell County’s Indian Ridge Trail are up 25 percent over last year.
“April and May are two of our best months of the year,” Lusk said. “We were up 2 percent for the last quarter and we are up for this quarter already as well. These are the second and third largest riding months of the year with October being the first. Overall, our permit sales in both Mercer and McDowell are up tremendously over last year. The Bramwell system wasn’t open last year, so this is our first spring for them but McDowell County is up 25 percent over last year in permits alone.”
Lusk said the trail system as a whole is headed for a new ridership record by the end of the spring.
“We are going to set record ridership on our trails this spring,” he said. “We think this will be one of the best springs we have ever had. We have grown every year since 2006, which is great. The Mercer and McDowell areas will see this is a tremendous year for riders. I think this year will surpass everyone’s expectations. Our permit sales have already surpassed our expectations.”
Bramwell Mayor Lou Stoker said the town has seen a major increase of riders each weekend this spring.
“We are getting ready for our summer season, but we are already seeing success on the trail,” Stoker said. “Everything we have for rent is full this weekend. We see the population of the town explode during the weekends. Friday and Saturday are probably the biggest days. This weekend already I have seen license plates from 10 different states in town.”
Along with the increase in riders, Stoker said businesses both in Bramwell and surrounding towns have seen a boost.
“Our eateries and convenience stores have seen their sales go up,” Stoker said. “Our tourist center has been busy. Two weeks ago one of our local businesses said they had sold $1,000 worth of trail permits in one Saturday morning alone. A lot of places like Bluewell and Bluefield are seeing increased sales because people are stopping there before coming in to the trail and when they are leaving. People also go out to eat in the evenings at restaurants in Bluefield and Princeton. This has benefited a huge area.”
Stoker said the town has several events planned to entertain riders and visitors during the month of May.
“We certainly have a lot going to encourage visitors and bring in local people,” Stoker said. “We are having our fifth annual kickoff May 4 and May 5 with Blues and Bluegrass on the Bluestone. The festival will feature lots of special entertainment including the Bevins Family, Melvin Goins and a wide variety of bluegrass, gospel and even some rock ‘n’ roll. We will have our spring tour of homes the following weekend with our Armed Forces Day tribute to our veterans on the third weekend of May. On May 25 we will also be celebrating the one year anniversary of the opening of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.”
With so many riders coming into Mercer and McDowell, Lusk said the area has a huge need for additional lodging to accommodate visitors.
“Almost all of our lodging providers are booked up and the communities are ramping up events. The weekends especially are a big time for our lodgers. The most critical issue we have in Mercer and McDowell County is the lack of lodging. We want to see the communities start to promote more private investment and increase the number of beds.
Lusk said campsites are especially needed to provide for out-of-area visitors.
“We desperately need lodges, campgrounds or campsites,” he said. “We have no campsites in the area and that will be critical to keeping the number of people coming to this trail system up. We desperately need a campground near the trail system, especially in Mercer County. I would say Mercer most desperately needs lodging.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org