BLUEFIELD — Growing numbers of ATV tourists riding Mercer County’s branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail are fueling a growing need for entrepreneurs ready to meet their needs with quality businesses.
The Pocahontas Trail, Mercer County’s branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, opened in May 2012. Businesses offering lodging and other services started appearing to serve the newcomers. Since that time, the demands of ATV tourists have changed, according to Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).
“First of all, when folks decide to start a business that caters to ATV riders, they need to realize it is not just a small business, but a tourism and hospitality role in West Virginia,” Null said. “In our field, expectations are higher because the visitors set the needs, and those needs can change over time. As a part of the tourism industry, customer service, safety, attention to details and a knowledge of the tourism industry is very important and needed in our area.”
More families are arriving to ride the ATV trail, so lodging and businesses should be ready to accommodate them.
“It is not about what type of lodging will do well, but how entrepreneurs and investors invest into the ATV industry. To be successful, and for tourism to grow, we need to change our ideas about what lodging looks like in Mercer County,” Null stated. “The old days of bunkhouses, cabins with no privacy, trailers and such are gone. Our visitors have changed over the years. They bring families, couples, kids and large groups and they travel routinely to other destinations.”
Local lodging providers have seen this change in the tourists coming to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.
Brandon Fain, one of the owners of Gold and Blue Cabins in Bluewell, said that bigger lodgings and nicer bedrooms are things that tourists are seeking, particularly over the last two years.
“We have eight cabins that are set up like duplexes, and then we have three cabins that are one-bedroom with a full living room and kitchen; and the new have to cabins that are two bedroom with a living room and kitchen, and they all have their own bathroom,” Fain said.
The cabins also come with features including towels and linens, coffeepots, microwaves, televisions, air conditioners and heating. There is also an on-site store, Gold and Blue Outfitters, that sells trail passes, Hatfield-McCoy souvenirs, ATV gear and other items, he said. There is an on-site laundromat and non-ethanol gasoline for ATVs.
“We’ve grown,” Fain said “We’ve been really blessed, and it just keeps growing. Right now, we’re currently working on a 15-site, long-term RV park; and then next spring we’ll have about a 25-site RV park as well.”
In the past, visitors were mostly groups of men, but the riders coming to Mercer County are now wanting better accommodations that the ones offered when the Pocahontas Trail first opened.
“There’s more couples, there’s more families coming,” Fain said. “Andwhole lot more females coming – maybe even a female trend – where in the beginning it was just guys, guys trips and things like that. We probably reserve more of our private cabins for families and couples than we do our single guys trips, so we have seen a big, big swing that way as far as more family activity coming here as well as couples.”
Safety is a factor that must be considered, too, he said. Lodgings must be certified through the Mercer County Health Department, and sprinklers in the cabins are required by the State Fire Marshal.
Null said that creating the lodging that these new ATV tourists want requires a lot of advanced planning. There are plenty of details to consider.
“Their expectations of us have changed, and we must meet them on that level. A business plan for any lodging project should include marketing plans, research and data from the CVB and the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority,” she stated. “We need to be thoughtful with plans and include things such as wash stations, yard games, campfires, etc. Our visitors want security for their machines, privacy, comfortable accommodations, on-site food options, WiFi capability, access to the trails. All of this is important to avoid the cookie cutter appearance for the ATV industry.”
Other businesses such as restaurants would help the local hospitality industry, and those enterprises need advanced planning, too.
“As for other businesses, the approach is the same. They have to understand the industry and realize that while folks ride all year, any food or retail establishment is going to have slow times during a shoulder season and during the first of the week,” Null said. “Businesses also have to be close enough to the trails. The CVB would love to see a brewery and seasonal outdoor outfitters.”
People who want to learn more about establishing a new business near the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in Mercer County will have an opportunity to do so later this year.
“In the late fall, the Mercer County CVB will host a Tourism Talk for industry partners, business owners and the community,” Null said. “Many of these topics will be addressed at the meeting.”
There are both established and new businesses that are now meeting the needs of these new ATV tourists. On Simmons River Road, the Riverfront ATV Resort opened last January. Owners Randy and Aliceson Brown said their goal was to have a family-oriented place for visitors.
“We have a total of 14 cabins: four of them are two-bedroom,” Randy Brown said. “They have hot tubs on them; and one medium-sized cabin and it has a hot tub as well. And there are nine other smaller cabins. They’re comfortable for two people; you could put two adults and one child in them.”
“The four big cabins, they are fully equipped with stove, refrigerator, a full kitchen,” he said, adding that linens and towels are provided in all the cabins along with Keurig coffeemakers, microwaves, televisions and Blu-ray DVD players.
“All we need is for people to show up,” Randy Brown said. “Everything else is there. We’re family oriented.”
The new resort includes swings by the river, kayaks, a picnic pavilion, fire pits, basketball hoops and all of the sites have charcoal grills. There are five RV sites with concrete pads.
Aliceson Brown added, “We are fun ready.”
“We’ve even got a wash site for the ATVs,” Randy Brown added.
The Browns said they are working on a restaurant and store, and hope to have those done within 45 days. There are also plans for an outdoor theater to provide outdoor music and a place for plays.
“We’re all about family,” Randy Brown said. “People looking for a place to party like a rock star, that’s not what we’re serving. We’ve got a quiet time.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org