By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Many of the new visitors coming to Mercer County’s stretch of U.S. Route 52 come from North Carolina or Ohio. Others call Kentucky home and some hail from Canada or Australia. They have come to ride a new ATV trail, and they’re spending money locally while they do it.
This year a new branch of the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail opened in Mercer County. This route, the Pocahontas Trail, is bringing new activity to communities and businesses along Route 52. A former school near the town of Bramwell is being converted into a trailhead center, and the town itself is seeing visitors already.
“Oh, yes, definitely. They’re coming from all over,” said Mary Shandor, a Bramwell resident who works part-time in the Bramwell Train Depot. Riders of all-terrain vehicles check out the new trail, but they also make time to see Bramwell, a town where coal industry millionaires built their mansions. The new visitors come to the depot and other local businesses to learn more.
“Basically, they’re interested in the town and the history of the town, and what the people here do for a living,” Shandor said. “They compliment the town on how well it’s maintained. The mansions have really been kept up well. The people here have taken a lot of pride in this community.”
For out-of-state visitors, seeing the town and its architecture is a new experience.
“They feel like they’re going back in time,” Shandor said. “It’s so quaint. It’s so laid back and peaceful.”
Further down the highway in the community of Bluewell, ATV tourists are buying food and supplies in local stores. At Gary’s Market, riders stop in for lunchmeat and other goods.
“We’re the only deli around except for Kroger,” said an employee, Wilma Ballard. “Now that they know we’re here, we’re seeing more of them. They park long ways down the road. We’d like to see more of them. We really would.”
A neighboring motorcycle business sells Hatfield-McCoy souvenirs and permits for the trail. Lodging located above the store caters to ATV riders.
“We were actually in the lodging business before the Hatfield-McCoy Trail opened up,” said Steve Spencer, co-owner of Mercer County Choppers. “We’ve experienced traffic from 52 north for years, and we’ve seen an increase in traffic. We’re getting business we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Spencer predicted that more ATV traffic would arrive next year. Many ATV enthusiasts had already made plans and their reservations in other areas when the Pocahontas Trail opened this year.
“My expectation is that 2013 will be the year for the Pocahontas Trail. I’m getting calls now for March reservations,” he said.
Nearby Dick’s Swiss Burger has seen ATV enthusiasts for years, but the new trail is bringing more, employee Tiffany Farrington said as she served a customer.
“Oh yes, we have more ATV riders now than we used to,” she said. “We have a lot of people who say they’re from out of town.”
One customer, Richard Lambert, 42, of Falls Mills, Va., — known to his friends as Hillbilly Bub — said the new trail has brought new business possibilities.
“They definitely need a motel,” he said. “If they had enough room here for a motel, you wouldn’t have a place to stand in here.”
Repair shops and trail tours for people who do not ride ATVs could also do well, Lambert predicted.
Next door, business S&S Express convenience store said most of new visitors are from out of state.
“I think it’s really good for our area,” said employee Laura Bohler. “It’s mostly during the weekend, but we see some during the week, too; I guess they’re on vacation.”
“We had some from Australia. That really shocked me,” said employee Tina Corvin.
“And they were from Canada one day,” Bohler recalled.
Down the highway, the Cargo station and convenience store was also seeing more business.
“We’ve seen it pick up, mainly around the weekend,” said employee Janice Lusk.
Employees at a nearby restaurant, Lynn’s Drive-In, are seeing more trucks with ATV trailers stopping in the parking lot.
“Oh, yes. We see them come in all the time,” cook Shanna Graham said as she put a foot-long wiener in a foot-long bun. “Boo coos of four wheelers come by here. They usually stop more on their way out than coming in.”
One business offering accessories and ATV service and sales has seen more ATV traffic, said Tina Miller of Miller’s ATV Superstore. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority has been promoting the new Mercer County branch.
“We are hoping it will increase next year,” she said. “The Hatfield-McCoy trail has super-good people to deal with, and they’re working hard.
Not all of the new riders are tourists. More Mercer County residents are getting into the hobby now that they have a local trail with easy access.
“I think it’s brought more locals into riding,” said Steve Henegar, who works at Miller’s ATV Superstore.
In Brushfork, business owner Talisha Jewell was preparing a calzone at Amico’s Pizza & Wings. She said one group of ATV riders from North Carolina stop there every two weeks. In other cases, groups of 10 to 30 ATV riders have stopped in at one time. The fact many riders used modern navigation technology has been good for the pizza and wings business, she said.
“The GPS directions leads them right by us,” Jewell said.