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Hatfield & McCoy trail authority discusses progress, challenges with trail expansion

MAN, W.Va. (WVVA) The Hatfield & McCoy trail system crosses through some of West Virginia’s most beautiful terrain.  Commissioned in 1996, its purpose was to offer something no other state could — thousands of miles of ATV trails through areas untouched by anything but nature.

Since the ATV trails were first constructed with systems in Logan and Mingo counties, the trail has grown from 300 miles to 700 miles, making it one of the fastest growing tourist organizations in the state.

“Out-of-state visitors love it. We’re in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. We have 700 miles of roads through the woods. It’s just a fantastic place to come and vacation,” said the authority’s Exec. Dir. Jeff Lusk.

But for all its beauty and growth, Lusk said there are challenges — especially among those who feel expansion is not coming as quickly as they would like.

Since the authority was created as a public entity, he explained, the organization has had to balance the interests of thousands of private companies and landowners through which the trails are being built.

“We take on the liability. We build and maintain the trails. But we do it all on private property. So we have license agreements on a million different areas we’re putting these trails on.”

A classic example of this very challenge is the Oceana trail head, a project he said the authority has been actively working on for a decade.

“Some of these areas have new mines and they’re going to employ Southern West Virginia, so we don’t want to be in their way. So that takes awhile, but these companies have worked in good faith with us.”

The Oceana project needs a signature from one of the landowners where mining operations are present. A couple years ago, the mine they’d been working to secure an agreement with for years switched hands from Patriot Coal to Blackhawk Mining.

It wasn’t a deal breaker, said Lusk, but the authority had to start over on an agreement with a new company. Since that time, he said they have been revising maps, completing an environmental study, and actively working toward an agreement.

“We feel like the companies have worked with us on this project in good faith. They’re still taking our calls, emails, and texts. They’re still having meetings with us. These are all things companies do when they want to work toward a solution.”

More recently, the authority has secured help from U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, (D) West Virginia, in moving the project forward.

“The Hatfield-McCoy Trail is a significant economic driver for southern West Virginia and the entire state and that’s why I’m working with local stakeholders and company officials for the development of the Oceana trail head and the expansion of the Hatfield-McCoy trail in Wyoming County,” said Sen. Manchin, in a statement to WVVA News.

As for the rest of the trail system, Lusk said the authority is in need of local entrepreneurs to step up and build lodging. On a daily basis, he said they can only sell as many permits as there are beds available.

“The glass ceiling that stops us from expanding is lodging. We need more investments in Southern West Virginia. So when we go into a new area, a new town, we have an expectation that entrepreneurs will step up to put in cabins, campgrounds, remodel houses to accommodate trail riders. That’s how we sell permits.”

Lusk said the authority has more than 4 million in possible loans for small business start-ups and even a business coach to help with the process.

To learn more, Lusk advises prospective business owners to contact Bryan Shaw at Southern West Virginia Community College at 304-687-7908.

Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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