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ATV trails could be boon for Wayne tourism

September 16, 2018

An off-road enthusiast enjoys a ride on one of the trails in the Hatfield & McCoy system. Officials are exploring ways to expand the trail system into Wayne County, which would be a boon for tourism in that area.

ATV trails could be coming to the 8,123 acres of Cabwaylingo State Forest in Wayne County. That would be a good thing.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is soliciting proposals from companies or groups interested in developing a two-year pilot project to develop trails for all-terrain vehicles and off-road vehicles in the forest in southern Wayne County.

ATV and ORV trails are good business, as people in southern West Virginia have learned. On any given weekend, visit the town of Man in Logan County or Gilbert in Mingo County and count the number of lodging establishments or other businesses that cater to ATV-ORV riders. Riding is one of the largest magnets for outside money in those communities.

So why shouldn’t Wayne County and perhaps other counties in this part of the state try for a piece of the action?

Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of Hatfield-McCoy Trails, says he is interested in Cabwaylingo.

“We think there a tremendous amount of potential there and we think trails could enhance that property,” Lusk said.

The forest has the lodging in place to help a trail get off to a good start, he says.

“Our biggest challenge on a given weekend is we’ve got far more people wanting to ride our trails than there are places for them to stay,” Lusk said.

Since the trail system opened in 2000, 44 new lodging businesses have opened and more are needed, Lusk said.

Hatfield-McCoy opened a new trail in McDowell County on Labor Day weekend. It’s received good response, but there is no lodging there, so use is limited to people who come in and leave that day, Lusk said.

“We have got to get some lodging in War and Gary to open up the true potential of that system,” he said.

Ridership on the Hatfield-McCoy system continues to increase, Lusk said. Last year the system sold 45,297 annual permits and sales are up 15 percent this year. Lusk said he expects permit sales to top 50,000 this year.

Off-road riding is popular in this area, too, even in areas where it’s not legal. The Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had problems with illegal riding on federal land in the East Lynn area of Wayne County, so it has called in the Hatfield-McCoy Trails to help.

“We have given permission to Hatfield-McCoy to enter the property to complete their environmental analysis. The ball is in their court,” said Brian Given, a natural resource specialist for the Huntington District.

Hatfield-McCoy will assess the environmental impacts of off-road trails at East Lynn and advise whether such a system would be feasible, Given said.

“It will help us in that decision making,” he said.

Lusk said he hopes to deliver the assessment this winter or in the spring. The corps will need a few months to evaluate it. If the corps gives the go-ahead, Hatfield-McCoy will need two years to develop trails, Lusk said.

Meanwhile, rangers on the Corps property at East Lynn patrol the area looking for riders, Given said.

Given the popularity of ATV-ORV riding, it was logical for the DNR and the Corps to look for help in developing trails in this area. Perhaps they will be the first of more to come.

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