The town of Sophia is considering new ATV regulations which would allow the vehicles to travel on certain town streets — so riders could have access to a possible new ATV trail which could become part of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

However, Raleigh County officials emphasize that getting a trail — especially one that would be part of Hatfield-McCoy Trails — is far from a done deal.

The town will conduct a meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight to receive public comment about the ordinance, according to a notice from the town. The public is urged to attend.

Sophia Mayor Danny Barr said at the present time ATVs are banned from all town streets. However, Raleigh County Commission officials have discussed possibly putting a trail head around Hot Coal Road — that would possibly be a part of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Sophia would need to change its current ordinance to allow riders who would use that trail to enter and exit. Whether or not the ordinance would be passed could depend on public input.

According to the ordinance, it would allow riders to use Main Street, Independence Road and Hot Coal Road for access to and from an ATV trail. Use of the vehicles on Sophia’s streets would be limited to going to and from the town’s connector and various businesses also located on designated streets. Travel on any street not designated is prohibited.

Joyriding and cruising on town streets would be prohibited, according to the ordinance. Every person riding an ATV would also be required to wear a helmet approved for use by motorcycle or ATV riders at all times, have proper eye protection and would not be allowed to carry a passenger unless the particular vehicle is approved for that use. All riders younger than 16 must be supervised and in the immediate sight of a person at least 21 years old who has a valid driver’s license.

The speed limit for the vehicles will be 15 mph, the ordinance stated. Operators of the vehicles must have liability insurance and have their vehicles in proper and safe condition. The town also has a noise pollution ordinance which must be honored in all designated areas.

The Sophia Police Department would be directed to assist any operator and enforce all applicable regulations, the ordinance stated. The police may issue applicable citations to violators of the ordinance. After a full hearing, the police department would also have the authority to ban a “scofflaw user” from using the town’s streets.

Barr said other areas that have the Hatfield-McCoy Trails passing through have seen a major boost to their economies.

“It would be the same thing if it comes this way — it could be a boom to the economy,” he said.

Raleigh County Commission President John Aliff cautioned that the county and Hatfield-McCoy Trails have signed on no dotted lines.

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ right now, to be honest,” he said. “There are a lot of variables out there, and I don’t know if it will come to pass. ... It’s an iffy situation.’

“It’s too early on to have all the pieces fall into place, but it’s something we’re looking at seriously. We’re pursuing an opportunity to be a part of it.”

Representatives from the county commission and Beaver Coal Company have made a presentation to representatives from Hatfield-McCoy Trails, Aliff said. However, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails board must make a final decision.

“We’re kind of in limbo as to where we stand,” he said.

The commission is working with Beaver Coal and Pocahontas Land Company to develop a trail on some of their properties, providing the county would be responsible for liabilities, Aliff said.

The county has another option — creating its own trail — if any deal with Hatfield-McCoy falls through, Aliff said.

Like Barr, Aliff sees great economic potential, either way.

“A developed trail in Raleigh County would attract a great number of out-of-state ATV owners,” he said. “They would bring dollars with them they would use in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions. I think our economy would be losing a lot if we did not have a trail.’

“We’re not going to expend more than a year. It would be best to get this up and going — by next year, we hope.”

Hatfield-McCoy Trails and ATV riding have brought plenty of revenue to Logan, Boone, Mingo and Wyoming counties, according to Logan County Sheriff Eddie Hunter.

“It’s brought more revenue than skiing, whitewater rafting — both of those combined,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 attraction in West Virginia, especially southern West Virginia right now.”

Those coming to ride the trails come from just about everywhere, according to Hunter. Two to three months ago, he said he spoke with New York City firefighters who had come to Logan County to ride the trails. A local business owner who gives guided tours told Hunter he took a group from Germany.

“My cousins in Michigan came down, and they loved it,” he said. “They’re coming back. Hatfield-McCoy Trails is the biggest tourism industry West Virginia has to offer. I know it’s pulling them in here in Logan County.”

As far as ATV safety is concerned, Aliff believes having riders on an approved and monitored trail with restrictions would make riding in Raleigh County safer.

“If you check their record, there are certainly not near as many accidents on properly developed trails that are patrolled and have restrictions,” he said. “I don’t think these vehicles are road worthy. The best place for them are trails out in the woods. This could certainly cut down on fatalities and accidents.”

If Raleigh County were to have a trail, Hunter believes being a part of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails would be its best bet because Hatfield-McCoy has its own rangers with police power. If Raleigh County had its own trail, it would have to provide its own law enforcement protection, which could be a large expense.

“If you have Hatfield-McCoy get into Raleigh County, you’d be a lot better off,” he said.

The town of Man adopted an ordinance allowing ATV riders trail access, Hunter noted. Aspects of the ordinance are similar to the one proposed by Sophia, such as helmet requirements. The town did have a few problems, but it has been solved by the ordinance and the police working to enforce the laws.

“I think Raleigh County would benefit by having a trail — either by itself or with Hatfield-McCoy.”

Even though Hatfield-McCoy runs through Logan County, Hunter acknowledges that his department has responded to its share of ATV accidents. He noted that because the trails have its own rangers, it handles any accidents there.

The state’s ATV-related death toll now stands at 32, and the 30th and 31st fatalities of the year were two young Beckley men killed Friday while on board an ATV in the city limits, according to information from Beckley Police. Officials throughout the state believe the state will break last year’s record of 40 ATV deaths.

“There’s always a dark side to everything you do,” Barr said. “Some riders are careful, but others do wheelies and make life miserable for everyone. But those are a small portion.”

Most ATV accidents, Hunter said, can be attributed to driver error.

“You’ll notice in just about every fatal accident, there was no helmet worn,” he said. “If there was serious injury, it was head injury, and there was no helmet worn.”

— E-mail: apridemore@register-herald.com

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