The region’s ATV tourism engine is roaring. In 2018, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system set a new record by selling 50,031 permits. And 80 percent of those permits that were sold were purchased by non-West Virginia residents. Now the trail system looks to be on track to sell 55,000 annual permits in 2019, according to Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk.
The Pocahontas Trail in Mercer County, thanks in part to its close proximity to Intestate 77, is still the fastest growing trail in the six-county system, Lusk said last week. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to area residents, who are seeing an influx of ATV traffic in the region.
On any given day, it is now a common occurrence to see tourists converging on the area hauling their all-terrain vehicles. And the volume of ATV traffic increases each weekend.
This Memorial Day weekend, the trail system will be celebrating its seventh anniversary in Mercer County. It is hard to believe that seven years have already passed since the opening of the Pocahontas Trail, which is located near the town of Bramwell.
“It opened on Memorial Day Weekend six years ago, so this will be number seven,” Lusk said. “We’ve got our new facility at the top of the mountain in Coaldale and we’ve had a dozen investments in lodging providers. Those are just fantastic. Mercer County continues to be one of our fastest-growing counties, and for many years it’s (been) the fastest-growing county.”
Still, there have been plenty of growing pains for Mercer County. Specifically, meeting the lodging demand fueled by the ATV tourists arriving in Mercer County has been a challenge ever since the Pocahontas Trail opened.
“We continue to struggle with the capacity issue,” Lusk said. “We’ve got to get more entrepreneur lodging around the trail. We are so dependent on those beds to bring in new people.”
Entrepreneurs have been urged to open new cabins, ATV parks and campgrounds for the visitors, and now the ones who have opened for business are being asked to consider offering even more rooms and sites.
“We’re really hoping those folks will have an eye to expansion and add beds, add cabins, campsites, acquire a house and remodel it,” Lusk said. “We’d love to see those guys and gals expand what they’re doing. They’re great partners, too.”
We, also, see plenty of room for growth. In addition to lodging facilities, more restaurants are needed in the Bluefield, Brushfork, Bluewell and Bramwell areas to serve the out-of-town visitors. So are specialty shops and other unique attractions that appeal to tourists along the path of the trail. There are still plenty of empty buildings along U.S. Route 52 that need to be filled with stores, shops, restaurants and other related accommodations to serve both ATV tourists and local residents.
Another reason for making more rooms and campsites available is the fact that ATV riders are now arriving in Mercer County throughout the year.
“In the early years there were down times in the winter, but we did not have a breakdown for ATV traffic this past winter,” Bramwell Mayor Louise said last week. “People were here every week; riders, that is. So it’s all good.”
As the number of riders on our trails continues to increase, so will the need for accommodations to serve these out-of-town visitors.
This weekend, as we celebrate seven years of ATV tourism growth in Mercer County, it is important to remember that new investments are still needed along the trail.
With hope, additional entrepreneurs, small-business owners and others will step forward to help meet this great need.