Hatfield-McCoy Trails set historic growth record in 2021

The trail system saw a 46 percent increase in ridership over the course of a year. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System in southern and southwestern West Virginia sold nearly 95,000 trail permits in 2021—the highest number of annual permits sold in a single year, which was also the system’s 21st consecutive year of growth in ridership.

Permit sales enjoyed a 46-percent lift over 2020 sales, according to Gov. Jim Justice, and 68 percent lift over 2019 sales. The growth in 2021 alone is more than the first 10 years combined.

“I’ve been saying since my first day in office that we have to tell our state’s story. We’re doing just that, and it’s working,” Justice said.

“West Virginia is a world-class, four-season travel destination, and thanks to our investments in tourism, we are seeing the benefits firsthand.

Prior to Justice taking office, the state had seen four consecutive years of decline in traveler spending. Upon taking office, Justice appointed Chelsea Ruby as tourism commissioner, the state’s tourism marketing budget was tripled, and the research-based “Almost Heaven” campaign was launched.

Since then, the state has seen incredible gains across the board, Justice said. In the three years following the campaign’s launch, annual traveler spending in the state grew by more than $611 million, reversing the historic decline seen in the previous four years.

“Southern West Virginia especially is reaping the benefits of our investments. During the summer, this part of our state is absolutely full of Hatfield-McCoy riders,” the governor said,.

“They’re buying gas, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and contributing to our economy in a major way. However, we also know that these riders are also doing something more significant: they’re falling in love with West Virginia.

“That’s why I am totally committed to furthering this incredible prosperity in southern West Virginia, and why finishing projects like the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway are two of my top priorities. For centuries, southern West Virginia has been an energy powerhouse, providing our nation with the coal needed for reliable energy. Because of this sacrifice, I wholeheartedly believe that this region deserves all the goodness we can send their way.”

Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism Chelsea Ruby thanked the governor for his leadership during the announcement of the trail system boom.

“What Gov. Justice has done for tourism in West Virginia will be remembered for generations to come as a defining moment in our state’s history, when the outside world finally realized that West Virginia truly is ‘Almost Heaven’ and when people within our borders had their sense of pride in their home state reinvigorated,” Ruby said.

West Virginia’s historic growth in tourism isn’t limited to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, Ruby emphasized.

“Last year, whitewater rafting trips were up 26 percent and skier lift ticket sales were up 37 percent. 2021 also marked the highest hunting and fishing license sales in more than 20 years,” she said.

“Today, there are more than 200 cabin or RV sites under construction or in design in the southern coalfields as a direct result of this newfound popularity. Under the governor’s leadership, the world is taking notice of the unbelievable outdoor recreation found among the West Virginia hills.”

Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.

“Thanks to Gov. Justice’s passion for southern West Virginia and the new and returning riders on the trails, we are incredibly optimistic about what’s to come,” Lusk said.

“Each year, we are just in awe of the trail system’s growing popularity and the way this area continues to expand with it. This popularity is without a doubt a direct result of the investments made by the Justice administration in tourism and by changing the image of West Virginia to the rest of the nation and the world.”

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System welcomed more than 29,500 new riders in 2021. More than 80 percent of total sales were to non-West Virginia residents, with both resident and non-resident ridership growing for the year, Lusk said.

In March 2021, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System added two more trail systems and two more counties to its already successful trail network—the Ivy Branch and Cabwaylingo trail systems in Lincoln and Wayne counties.

Lusk said the new systems have pushed the trails to more than 1,000 miles of off-road adventure riding for ATVs, UTVs, ORVs, and off-road motorcycles.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System is one of the largest off-road vehicle trail systems in the world. Open 365 days a year, it has become a four-season travel and tourism destination that connects ATV-friendly towns across the southern coalfields.

To learn more about the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, visit trailsheaven.com or WVtourism.com.

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