ATV riders

ATV riders returned to the reopened trails shortly after the pandemic restrictions eased and continued to visit the area leading to record numbers through the summer and the possibility of a booming winter season.

BRAMWELL — Vacation venues such as the beach usually see their business slow down when summer is over, but winter’s arrival and COVID-19 are not slowing down the ATV visitors coming to Mercer County.

The Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail was closed down more than two months when the pandemic began earlier this year, but later it reopened and quickly started drawing out-ofstate visitors again.

“It looks like we’re going to beat last year numbers,” said John Fekete, deputy executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority. “We were even closed for a little more than two months due to COVID, but we sold over 55,000 permits this year. Probably more than 85 percent of them were out-of-state and non-residents. It turned out to be a pretty good year.”

Since trail riding is an outdoor sport, people look at it as a way to social distance while still enjoying themselves, Fekete said. When the authority’s outlets sell a trail pass, the buyer is given a list of instructions detailing what they’re asked to do while in West Virginia. The instructions include wearing masks and taking other precautions while visiting local businesses and restaurants.

“We’ve sold more passes this year than we did last year,” he stated. “This is our 20th anniversary and we’ve had growth, and sold more passes every year of those 20 years. We’ve grown every year, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Overall, the winter tourism season is looking good, one local promoter said.

“We’re excited for the winter ATV season,” said Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Every year we’ve seen an increase during the winter; and with today’s technology, machines can be fitted to be more comfortable during the cold. A lot of the machines, they have heaters. They have zippered windows that keep the wind out.”

With today’s technology and winter clothing, ATV enthusiasts can ride in snowy conditions.

“For a lot of people, winter riding is really enjoyable, and it’s a chance to see the scenery change,” Null said. “If it snows, they get a totally new look with West Virginia in winter. And the trails will be a little slipperier, a little more muddy. It’s going to be a little slippery, and a lot more fun to drive than the middle of summer.”

Visitors can combine work and recreation if they want to, Null said.

“I think because of the pandemic, people are able to work from home and able to visit a destination, and work from a cabin and enjoy the trails,” she said. “They have a lot more opportunities during the colder months to take a break and get a little bit of their work done.”

Communities near the trailheads are continuing to see visitors.

“It is unbelievable this year. That’s the word,” said Mayor Louise Stoker of Bramwell. “They keep coming. Ever since the trails reopened back in the spring, it’s been unbelievable. Even this past weekend, we were full up in the town with the riders. We thought it would die down in the fall, but it has not. The ridership is up more than any other year.”

Riders from Ohio, North Carolina and other states visit the town each week and patronize local businesses. A new restaurant on Main Street, Casa Familia, opened recently, Stoker added.

“And it’s owned and operated by local people,” she said.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com

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