Riders flock to reopened West Virginia ATV trails system


GILBERT, W.Va. (AP) — Riders packed a vast network of all-terrain vehicle trails in southern West Virginia on the first weekend the system was allowed to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

The eight trail networks that make up the more than 700-mile Hatfield-McCoy system were open for Memorial Day weekend. Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that all of the more than 60 lodging providers that serve the trails were booked for the weekend.

“We truly appreciate getting to reopen,” Lusk said. “Being able to open now will help our trail businesses recover.”

Gov. Jim Justice reopened the trails late last week as part of the most aggressive phase of his coronavirus reopening strategy. Also back are ATV rentals, restaurants, malls, big box stores, tanning salons, and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses, along with campgrounds for in-state residents.

The governor has said lifting the state’s virus restrictions is a balance between safety and the state’s ailing economy.

The Republican governor will allow swimming pools, bowling alleys, spas and video lottery retailers to reopen next Saturday. On June 5, movie theaters and casinos can open.

Justice has said lifting the state’s virus restrictions is a balance between safety and the state’s ailing economy.

“After shutting things down, you never know if visitors are going to want to come back, especially with all this going on,” Lusk said.

Did they ever.

At the Twin Hollow Campground and Cabins in Gilbert, the phone lines rang constantly since the reopening announcement, said Cameron Ellis, whose family owns the mountaintop lodging venue built to serve the ATV trail system.

Twin Hollow’s 45 campsites with full hookups and all of its 11 cabins were booked on Friday. The venue’s primitive campsites remain closed due to state coronavirus guidelines.

The reopening not only benefits the trail system but also the grocery and convenience stores in the surrounding small communities.

Jeff Sowers of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, parked his side-by-side at a Gilbert convenience store on Friday, preparing for a day on the trails with a group of friends. He rode on the trail network during a previous visit near Pineville.

“There’s no place like this for us to ride in North Carolina,” Sowers said.

Pittsburgh-area trail riders Lindsay and Chris Rhome stayed at Twin Hollow last year. They enjoyed it enough to book a reservation seven months in advance for this weekend.

“I had been holding my breath until we found out (earlier this month) that it had reopened,” Lindsay Rhome said.

“Places to ride in Pennsylvania are few and far between and not as large,” Chris Rhome added. “Here, you can go for hours and hundreds of miles without having to repeat parts of the trail.”

State guidelines for trail visitors urged the wearing of face masks when they weren’t riding and to observe physical distancing. Shared use of a trail vehicle by anyone outside a family group or a party of riders is discouraged. Public buildings and restrooms along the trail will remain closed for now.

While trail pass sales are about $400,000 below for a typical year, “I think we can make up some of that by the end of the year since the riders are coming back,” Lusk said.

Two more trail networks are scheduled to be added to the Hatfield-McCoy system later this year in Lincoln and Wayne counties, Lusk said.

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