BY Kate Coil
For The Register-Herald
With Mercer County’s Pocahontas Trail set to open Memorial Day weekend, providing lodging for incoming tourists remains the greatest need in the area.
Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority, said the majority of visitors to the trail are from out of state and will need places to stay.
“We are in desperate need for more lodging,” he said. “Every trail system we open runs a deficit on beds. We are tickled to death people are making investment, but there still isn’t enough lodging. Annually there are more than 30,000 visitors to the trail system and 80 percent are not West Virginia residents. Most of them come from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The average person travels more than 200 miles to visit our trail system. Most of those out-of-state visitors will want to see the new Pocahontas Trail System. Most will now end up staying in Bluefield or at Exit 9 in Princeton. We really need to get something down in that area. It will be really good for our riders.”
Lusk said the success of Mercer County’s new trail is highly dependent on getting visitors to stay in the local area.
“The Pocahontas Trail will only be successful if we get investment in lodging,” Lusk said. “Over the course of that weekend there will be several hundreds of people ride the trail that opening weekend. It will grow from there. Opening weekend will be one of the slowest there since people will need to learn where to ride, where to stay and where to park. Most people have made their vacation plans, so it won’t be until this is open a little while that people are integrating it into the vacation plan. Lodging is the biggest threat to that system. We are going into a place without a lot of capacity and if we don’t get lodging in that area, it will severely impact the potential for success for this system.”
Though there is still a need for lodging, Lusk said he is excited to see how businesses in Mercer County have embraced the new trail.
“We can’t say enough about the entrepreneurs that are already stepping up and putting in capacity,” he said. “There are several lodging locations already in the works for the area. We are tickled to get this done. We are going to have a first-class trail system and a first-class facility there at the Bluestone School. We will have a really nice trailhead where people can get their permits. This is going to be our southernmost trail system, and we think tons of people will visit it because of that. This is a real nice addition to the economy of Mercer County and to the tourism industry in Mercer County.”
Bramwell Mayor Louise Stoker said some movement has been made to bring new lodging into the area.
“There has been an addition onto an existing sleeping quarters for the riders,” she said. “We had the Bramwell ATV Resort with two motel units and they have added on to that with another building with two units. They will be able to sleep 20 in that new building. It will be open before Memorial Day. This is very exciting. There are two men who have invested in property here on Route 120 just outside the Cooper area of Bramwell. They purchased a former night club with a lot of property and a lot of big property there. They will be turning that into the Pocahontas Trail ATV Resort. They were hoping to have one unit open by Memorial Day that will sleep 30 people.”
Other local businesses are also making accommodations for trail riders, Stoker said.
“The food establishments in Bramwell are already preparing menus and have added buffets on weekends that they didn’t have,” she said. “At the Bramwell Cafe, they also added a breakfast and lunch buffet to accommodate those visiting us. The Corner Shop is open every weekend and until 9 p.m. on Saturday evenings. We also have entertainment plans with something planned every weekend at the tourist center.”
Stoker said Bramwell’s residents are hoping not only for new businesses but new people to be moving in as a result of the trail system.
“We are hoping for an economic boost,” Stoker said. “Small businesses have invested here in the town and have continued to stay open. Now, we all hope this is a time they will all see their investments profit and pay off. We are so grateful they have remained open, even at their own expenses. I’m hoping families will decide this is a good place to come and invest in a piece of property to live in. This isn’t just for businesses but to bring more population here. We have seen a number of properties in April sell. We have had six houses sold in the month of April alone. Families will be living in them as dwellings. That is great for a small town. This could bring all sorts of new attention to us. It can show people this is a great place to live and raise your children.”
Matoaka Mayor Todd Colonna said the Pocahontas Trail will not be immediately opening in the Matoaka area but that hasn’t stopped the town from preparing.
“In the last couple of years we have opened a grocery store and we are replacing our laundromat,” Colonna said. “There is a restaurant that is opening up in the town called Anne’s Diner. We have multiple places that will be turned into a Hatfield-McCoy stay once the trail gets here. We have about 10 places that could be turned into places to stay, but we can’t really do that until the customers actually get here. We’ve talked with Jeff Lusk a couple of weeks ago and he said as soon as they can secure the land they will get over to us. Originally, we would open the same time as Bramwell, but the mining area is using some of the land we need. As soon as they are finished, we can get the trail over here and start using it.”
Colonna said the trail system has been a considerable economic boost to other small towns and he hopes the same will be said for Matoaka.
“Towns like Gilbert have done very well because of the tourism and the trails brought in,” he said. “We are embracing the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. We have been big about cleaning our town, keeping the litter off the ground. We are redoing all of the buildings historically so there is something people would like to come and see. We have passed ordinances to make the town four-wheeler-friendly. Everyone in the town is pitching in to welcome the trail system.”
Janet Bailey, executive director of the Mercer County Development Authority, said the trails create a great opportunity for new businesses.
“It is a terrific opportunity for anyone that wants to build cabins, hotels or motels, bed and breakfast establishments or any type of restaurant, service station or establishments that can repair ATVs,” Bailey said. “There is just a multitude of different opportunities that will be available. It is good for business and good for tourism. That is another opportunity. When the ATV trail opens, there may be a lot of people bringing their families with them.”
Marie Blackwell, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said potential visitors to the area are already asking about the Pocahontas Trail.
Blackwell said the trail system has the potential to not only create opportunities in nearby towns like Bramwell and Matoaka but across all of Mercer County.
— Coil is a staff writer for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
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