Calling the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System an economic development agency, HMTS Executive Director Jeff Lusk told members of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce about the history of the system, plans for the future and vital role it plays in the diversification of the local economy.
“Our business is not tourism. Our business is not riders. It is economic development,” Lusk said. “In 2015, we were made a multi-county economic development agency by an act of the West Virginia Legislature. We are creating a tourism economy in southern West Virginia. Everything we do is lay the table so someone can make investments.”
He cited Twin Hollows Campground and Resort and SPORT Outfitters as prime examples of local families who have been able to reap benefits from the HMTS.
Twin Hollows in the Gilbert area, the county’s largest ATV/UTV resort, began as a primitive campground by the Ellis family, Lusk said. It now features full hook-up for RV, cabins, guided tours, machine rentals and a small open-air restaurant. The campground is currently constructing a new large full-service restaurant and bar and will be opening its newest campground expansion this spring. Twin Hollows and Trail 12 Barbeque have won several awards from West Virginia Living magazine.
SPORT Outfitters started with a couple of cabins and have built several more. Growth at the facility led the Davis family to look toward building a small general store at their resort. However, those plans were eventually changed and expanded with the Davises purchasing the old Victory Lane Convenience Center less than a mile from their property. They are now offering gas, deli foods, drinks, and memorabilia to both locals and tourists alike.
Lusk said the trail system is currently working on is to provide a direct access road to SPORT Outfitters Resort.
“People in the area just have to take advantage of the opportunities available,” he said. “These are examples of local entrepreneurs stepping up.”
However, Lusk said the “glass ceiling” that the HMTS is hitting is the lack of accommodations and other entertainment for those who come into the area.
“Our goal this year is 60,000 riders,” he said. “That is a very attainable goal and we think we may even exceed it.”
In 2018, the HMTS sold slightly more than 50,000 permits. Permit sales hit 56,258 in 2019 with 85 percent of that number being from out of state.
Lusk said getting the riders in is not the problem the Hatfield-McCoy Trails faces.
“The number one call we get in our office from trail riders is where can they find a room and what can they do after they quit riding for the day,” Lusk said. “We are close to creating 1,000 miles of interconnected trails making the Hatfield-McCoy Trails the Disney World of ATV riding in the United States. We have had riders from all 50 states and from 13 foreign countries visit the trails.”
He said safety is also a major concern of the HMTS.
“We enforce all safety guidelines and have officers from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources patrol the trails,” Lusk said. “The Hatfield-McCoy Trails has received every possible national safety award available. We are the safest place in the country to ride.”
The HMTS was originally created to serve nine counties including Mingo, according to Lusk. Its project area has now been expanded to encompass 14 of West Virginia’s 55 counties (25 percent).
Lusk’s presentation was followed by a question and answer session. Following the meeting, many participants remained behind to speak with him privately.