The Hatfield-McCoy Trails will once again see riders on Thursday, May 21, just the day before the Memorial Day holiday according to guidelines established for Week Four of West Virginia’s official reopening plan in the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Each week of the “The Comeback” plan normally begins on Mondays, however, reopening plans for next week (Week Four) will not go into effect until Thursday.
The governor justified the decision saying trail riding is an outdoor activity yet he understands it will draw people from out of state.
“We cannot stay closed forever,” Justice said. “We’ve got to try to reopen. Someway, somehow, we’ve got to learn to live with this disease, with this pandemic. I will also be lifting my executive order requiring a 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state travelers on May 21 as well”.
The HMT will operate on a limited basis with all trailhead properties and visitor centers being closed according to the system’s website. However, all parking areas and all trails will be open. Trial permits may be obtained online at the HMT website www.trailsheaven.com or at authorized vendors throughout the region (a full list of vendors is available on the website as well).
“I have gotten a lot of feedback from a lot of people including people from our tourism office and from medical experts,” Justice said in a press briefing last Friday afternoon. “I am recommending we reopen the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.”
With the reopening of the trail system, Justice also announced that guided fishing expeditions may also restart. However, whitewater rafting adventures will still remain closed.
The reason he gave for this decision is because proper social distancing may be conducted on the trails and on the fishing boats (which will be restricted to a maximum of two anglers and one guide), but whitewater rafting crowds multiple people into a confined space. Justice said he is currently working with whitewater rafting representatives to formulate plans in an effort to reopen those recreational activities as well.
Also during the briefing, the governor stipulated several guidelines that will be placed upon trail riders including:
• Wearing face masks or shields while stopped;
• Performing self-screenings for symptoms of COVID-19;
• Taking temperature checks before arriving at the trails — anyone with a temperature great than 100 degrees will not be permitted on the trails;
• Congregating on the trails will be prohibited;
• Social distancing must be practiced;
• Sharing of vehicles with anyone outside of a rider’s group or party is discouraged and sharing of safety equipment or masks with anyone is discouraged.
“The bottom line is that we expect (riders) to respect us and to respect our people,” Justice said.
In addition to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, a variety of other businesses and activities will reopen at the same time including:
• In-door dining facilities on a 50 percent capacity basis;
• Large and specialty retail establishments;
• State park campgrounds for in-state residents only (cabins and lodges will reopen the following week);
• Outdoor recreations equipment rentals;
• Motorsport and power sport racing with no fans; and
• Tanning bed facilities.
The governor said if West Virginia and the nation do not begin moving forward with reopening plans that it very well could lead to a severe economic depression.
“We cannot as a nation draw in and stay in our houses for months,” he said. “If we do, we will slip into the awfulest depression we’ve ever seen.”
He said during this time people have to be responsible, to be smart and protect themselves.
“There are two sides to this coin. It is a difficult decision,” Justice said. “On the left hand, you have risks. On the right hand, you have the possibility of an all-out depression.”
Justice admitted to having mixed emotions about reopening the trails. While he said he was happy to reopen them, he said he was also concerned. He added that this action is open for change or reversal if adverse results occur.
Again, Justice cautioned West Virginians to continue with best practices of social distancing, wearing of face coverings and conducting proper hand hygiene as more and more areas of the state reopen and visitors return.
All reopening plans are subject to reevaluation and even reversal if cumulative positive COVID-19 test results exceed 3 percent, the governor said.