Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 8, 2013

Ashland Resort growing side by side with trails

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

ASHLAND — Don’t look now, but the small Northfork Hollow community of Ashland is a pretty busy place these days since the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System opened the Indian Ridge Trail five years ago.

A few years ago, an Atlanta-based developer, Ken Basil, acquired some property near Ashland and had a few rustic cabins in place as well as several sites for travel trailers.

“They opened the KOA Campground at Ashland in tandem with the trail opening there,” Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, said. “We wouldn’t be where we are there in that part of the system if we didn’t have that facility working with us.”

In just five years, the campground has grown into a bona fide community, with 39 cabins, cottages and lodges that range from standard to deluxe one or two-room, 16 full hook-up pull through trailer sites; 19 back-in trailer sites with water and electric, a bathhouse/laundry site, camp shelter, playground, dog walk and more.

“This is a central point to most of the trails in this area — the Hatfield-McCoy Trails and the outlaw trails,” Bob, a rider from Greensboro, N.C., said. Bob and three additional members from the Triad Trail Blazers ATV Club sat on the front porch of the Ashland KOA camp store enjoying coffee on Saturday morning. Other members included Tom Desena of Tobaccoville, N.C., Larry McCallie from Winston-Salem, N.C., and Allen from Mooresville, N.C.

“We’ve been coming up here to these trails for more than 10 years,” Bob continued. “We own trailers up in Hilltop. Several clubs own trailers now. The sport is changing,” he said. “The thing that hurts the Pocahontas Trail right now is that it’s at the end of the line. This KOA campground is centrally located. It used to be that people riding ATVs would sleep out on cots in tents, but that doesn’t happen much anymore.”

All four of the club members were very familiar with the Pocahontas Trail, and were very complimentary of the existing attractions. “The Corner Shop up in Bramwell is great,” Desena said. “One place they need to focus on is the mine tours over in Pocahontas. That’s a place people will come to.”

The four ATV club members all agreed that local people should take steps to realize a benefit from ATV riders in the community. Along with the restaurants and the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, they said the museum at the Bramwell Depot and other similar sites will attract visitors.

“Obviously, the riders have discovered the area,” Desena said. “Many of these are people who can afford $15,000 to $20,000 for a side-by-side. The local community can get involved with convenience stores, pop shops and businesses that meet the needs of ATV riders. You might think it’s remote, but you would be surprised at how developed the economy has become in other parts of this trail system.”

Lusk is concerned that Mercer County investors haven’t stepped up to take advantage of the development potential connected with the system. “We don’t have a single camp site on the Pocahontas Trail,” Lusk said. “The Ashland Resort is getting a good return on the investment and he’s continuing to expand. The developers in Mercer County need to take a trip up to Ashland and see what he has been done up there. It’s amazing!”

Lusk called the lack of local investors taking interest along the Pocahontas Trail “is the biggest threat we have to development of that part of the trail. If Ken (Basil) can come in here, invest in the project and grow that investment, other investors should be able to do the same thing on the Pocahontas Trail,” he said. “The Exit 1 to Bramwell area is well branded,” Lusk said. “There is a lot of history to see. But we don’t have any major developments. We have 44 lodging providers, and that’s good, but none of them are big enough to handle the volume of traffic that is coming into the system.”

Lusk said that he hopes investors of the region will become active in the conversation. “This is as good of an opportunity as there is out there and there’s nothing to wait for. We’ve been open for one year plus, and we’re never going to get any more open than we are now.”

Lusk said he would be willing to take the local business leaders to Gilbert, Mann and Matewan to see how the communities have grown as a result of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. “I think there’s opportunity here,” Lusk said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com