EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


May 6, 2007

Off-road adventure: Ride Hatfield-McCoy trails for an ATV adrenaline rush

GILBERT, W.Va. - Kendell Simpson rolls along a rocky, muddy path into the forest. His strapped-on helmet, waterproof suit and goggles are the only indication of what lies ahead. Then he starts the rocky climb, the roar of his all-terrain vehicle getting louder as he gives the Rhino more gas and maneuvers around boulders and mud puddles. The Rockhouse trailhead starts out steep, with tight turns. Then it gets even steeper.

"You haven't seen nothing yet," Simpson says with a grin.

He ought to know. More than a decade ago, Simpson helped launch the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, which has grown into a network of some 550 miles of riding trails for four-wheelers.

Each of the six Hatfield-McCoy trails has a distinct vibe. While Pinnacle Creek's runs are known for breathtaking mountain views, the highly challenging trails of Dingess Rum may provide the best adrenaline rush. Organizers say there's a trail for everyone, depending on skill level.

The trail system is named after two infamous families - the Hatfields of southern West Virginia and the McCoys of eastern Kentucky, who carried on a 12-year feud of debatable origin more than a century ago. Some say it started over a stolen hog.

The idea behind the Hatfield-McCoy trails was to trigger economic development in nine counties hit hard by the decline of coal and timber industries. The auto body shop that Simpson and son-in-law Bill Reed run in the town of Gilbert is already doing more business, renting and repairing four-wheelers, and equipping riders with gear. But everyone involved in the venture says there's unrealized potential.

"This thing is really in its infancy, we're really just getting started," said Greg Crigger, a customer-service coordinator for the trail system and one of its few full-time employees. "The ultimate goal is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 miles of trail, all connected in this eight- or nine-county project area."

While the Hatfield-McCoy project is unique because it's all on private land. And with the sale of ATVs booming, demand for places to ride could be on the upswing. The Specialty Vehicle Institute of America says sales have more than doubled, from 447,000 in 1998 to 912,000 in 2004. Nationwide, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are 7.6 million four-wheelers in use.

The West Virginia trails were designed for many uses, including mountain bikes, horses and hikers. But they're most popular with ATV and dirt bike riders, who have turned them into a hot tourist attraction. And with affordable permits - $19 for a day, $37 for up to a week - many users are repeat visitors.

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