MATOAKA, W.Va. – Now that a branch of a major ATV trail has reached into Mercer County, communities are working to link up with it and reap the economic benefits generated by the sport.
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail opened the new Pocahontas Trail into Mercer County last May. Plans call for opening the official trailhead in the town to Bramwell, and ATV enthusiasts from across the nation are already taking advantage of the riding opportunity. Communities, such as Matoaka, have been working to get connectors to the new trail.
“They’ve been working pretty hard getting it over to us,” Mayor Todd Colonna of Matoaka said of the efforts at the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority. “We’ve been working very hard in the town of Matoaka to get ready for it. We now have a diner, a grocery with a deli, the Mountain Music place, and the gas station is reopening. Everything we’ve been asked for, we’re accomplishing.”
Some residents have properties that could be converted into lodging, but this cannot happen until the town has the trail connection, Colonna said. There are also locations in town suitable for recreational vehicles and cabins.
Colonna explained how towns like Gilbert have embraced the ATV trail and used it for economic development. Matoaka is ready to do the same.
“I know in the town of Matoaka, we’re ready to hit it hard,” he said.
There is a difference between trailheads and connectors, one member of the trail authority said.
“Our trailhead’s going to be in Bramwell,” said John Fekete, deputy executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority. “Any other will be community connectors.”
Whether a community’s link to the ATV trail is a trailhead or a connector does not change the trail’s economic impact, Fekete added. Communities with connections can offer lodging, sell gasoline, and provide food and services to visiting ATV riders.
“You really don’t need a trailhead to be successful. You need access,” he said.
Getting more connections along the Pocahontas Trail will benefit the entire system. Visiting ATV riders have more opportunities to find lodging, Fekete stated. The ones that can find a room tend to stay longer.
“The more, the merrier,” Fekete said. “There’s more lodging, more permits sold, more economic development. These guys come three to four days on average. If they don’t have a bed, they don’t stay as long.”
Connecting Matoaka and other communities to Mercer County’s trail would increase the “heads to beds” equation, he said.
“We know that Matoaka would be a community to connect to,” Fekete said. “They’ve been working to get ready.”
Finding a safe route has been the main obstacle to getting Matoaka a trail connection, he said. The properties along the possible routes are the scenes of businesses such as coal mining, logging or natural gas. Vacant property is bonded, and cannot be used until those bonds are released.
“The number one priority is to create a safe route. You don’t want to run down Route 52 for 10 miles,” Fekete said. “The mayor has been coming to our board meetings. He has worked hard to get this for his community. We certainly want to work with him and we’re 100 percent behind him.”
Towns with trail access have seen considerable economic activity.
Even though the trailhead facility – a former school – itself has not opened, the town of Bramwell is already reaping the benefits, said Mayor Louise Stoker. The Pocahontas Trail opened in May and the ATV activity has not abated. Lodging in and outside of town has seen plenty of visitors.
“In fact, we’re full up this weekend,” Stoker said earlier this month. “We have full houses this weekend, and people already this morning, as we speak, are riding this trail. It has not let up the way you would expect it to when the weather got a little colder, and a sunny day like today brings people from everywhere. Having this trail in Bramwell has made such a tremendous difference with the businesses here this year.”
Stoker makes a point of talking to guests and learning more about them.
“We have had visitors from Alaska, several places in Canada, several from New Hampshire, Vermont, Key West in Florida, and these are just the people I have talked to. Today I met people from two places in North Carolina – Ashville and Chapel Hill. And Richmond. And it’s still early in the day.”
Visiting riders have been staying at rooms in Bramwell and nearby McDowell County, Stoker said. Entrepreneurs with plans to create lodging for ATV riders had been buying property in and around the town throughout the summer.
“It’s not just a Bramwell thing,” she said of the trail’s economic possibilities. “It’s a Mercer County thing, and southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. We’re not an island here by ourselves. We want everybody to prosper.”