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Editorial: Wayne County needs a connection to trails system

Nov. 25, 2012 @ 09:35 PM

People come from all over the Eastern United States to enjoy whitewater rafting and skiing in West Virginia.

But those are not the only forms of outdoor recreation on the rise.

Since opening in 2000, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System has shown that the state can be a national destination for ATV, dirt-biking and utility vehicle enthusiasts as well. With 600 miles of trails in Boone, Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming counties, the system has over the last decade sold more than 200,000 trail permits to visitors, most of whom come from other states.

That is translating into tourism dollars for those counties. About 40 new lodging businesses have opened, along with restaurants and ATV outfitters, and officials say there is still room to grow.

"We think this is one of the best entrepreneurial opportunities for folks in the state," said Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy system. "During our peak season, there are far more folks wanting to come here than beds for them."

There also is an interest in expanding the trail system into Wayne County and linking it to the recreational water sports potential of East Lynn and Beech Fork lakes. State funding already has been targeted to develop areas around southern Wayne County for trails.

But much of the suitable land is under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and leased to the state Division of Natural Resources for wildlife management areas. Adding any of that area to the trail system would require coordination with both of those agencies. There have been some discussions in the past, but nothing has been worked out yet.

It seems it would certainly be worth exploring some type of multiple-use approach, where roads within the DNR areas could be opened up for riding trails. In fact, officials say there is quite a bit of unauthorized riding going on now.

"We could take maybe 75 miles of road in that area, put it in Hatfield-McCoy and bring economic development to Wayne County," said Wayne County Commissioner Bob Pasley, who sits on the trail system's board.

Wayne County also has a great deal to offer the trail system. A new lodge and convention center is being built at Beech Fork State Park, and Interstate 64 provides easy access for visitors from Kentucky and Ohio. Nearby, Tri-State Airport would be a plus for riders coming from other states.

It makes sense to keep working on making this project a reality.

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