Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere, every avid ATV'er has heard of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. "Thank you, I guess I've been doing my job" replies Mike Pinkerton, the marketing director for the trail system.
For those cave dwellers, the H-M trail system is located in southwest West Virginia's Logan, Mingo, and Boone counties. Developed on corporate-owned property, 400 miles of trail are open. Future plans include 2000 miles of trails connecting several towns in an eight county area throughout the Appalachian Mountains. The trails are multiuse, allowing ATV's, motorcycles, horses, hiking and mountain bikes.
I was on the phone to Mike asking for some information for my first visit to the trail system. I was looking for a town that allowed quads on the city streets, someplace with a little ambience and a bit of interesting history. I wanted to socialize with the local people and get a feel of what the people thought of the trail system.
"That would be Matewan" Mike replied without hesitation "and you need to stay at a new Bed and Breakfast that just opened."
A couple of days later I was getting a first-class tour of the town by Pat Garland, my host from the Historic Matewan House Bed and Breakfast. I learned that Matewan is located in Mingo county. It is in this area that the Hatfield and McCoy's started their famous feud during the l880's. Although the killing lasted only a few years, journalists sensationalized the feud enough to make it part of history.
Early in the next century, on May 19, 1920, Matewan made history again when a shootout erupted between the townspeople, miners that were trying to organize a union, and Baldwin-Felts detectives hired by coal mine operators to evict the miners from company-owned houses. When the shooting ended, the mayor, seven detectives and two miners were killed. There are still bullet holes in the buildings. The shootout, known as the "Matewan Massacre" and the events leading to it, are chronicled in a movie called "Matewan". A reenactment every year by the townspeople commemorates this tragic event.
The final stop on my tour was Matewan's trailhead building. Currently under construction (due to open in the Spring 2004) and conveniently located just off Main Street. When completed, the office will sell permits, have maps, provide restrooms and parking.
Rich in history and with a vision for the future, Matewan was a good choice to start my H-M ride.
I must admit when I first started looking at the brochures and maps of the trail system, it was a little confusing. Lets break it down like this: There are four separate 'trails', Dingess Rum, Browning Fork, Buffalo Mountain and Little Coal River. Each trail has its own 'trailhead'. Dingess Rum's trailhead is called Bear Wallow. Browning Fork's trailhead is called Rockhouse. Buffalo Mountain's trailhead is called Reverend Compton. (A new trailhead at the other end will be in Matewan.) Little Coal River's trailhead is called Waterways. What can be so confusing, is that some people will call the Browning Fork trail 'Rockhouse' which is actually the name of the trailhead not the trail. Adding to the confusion, sometimes the local's will call a trail something else entirely, because that is what the area was called before the H-M trail system became in existence.
Within each trail (Browning Fork, etc.) there are many trails that connect to make loops within the main trail. Each of these sub trails are marked with a number and a difficulty rating. Green-easiest, blue-more difficult, and black-most difficult. Now that that is as clear as mud, lets go riding!
I spent the first two days exploring the Buffalo Mountain trail between Matewan and the Reverend Compton trailhead. I found that everything was well marked and easy to follow. Most of what I rode were the blue trails and the difficulty was not too bad, just a little challenging on the rocky hill climbs. The scenery was breathtaking and I found some interesting rock formations.
Of course, you can't go riding anywhere in the woods without finding an abandoned rusting truck, but where else can you ride and find an entrance to an old coal mine? This was shaping up to be a cool ride, but it was about to get cooler!
I was watching TV in the living room of my cozy B&B, the weatherman just came on with the prediction of snow for the night. As if on cue, the telephone rang, it was Todd Nenni, one of the owners of WV Outback ATV. He was guiding and video taping a group from the Windrock ATV Club, and wanted to know if I wanted to ride with them?
It was still dark when he picked me up the next morning. We strapped my quad on his trailer and headed out, blazing a trail in the fresh fallen snow. We arrived at the Browning Fork Trailhouse where the Windrock group was staying, and it was still snowing. Introductions were made and we all suited up in our warmest clothes.
Todd lead us down a county road a short ways, then we accessed the Browning Fork trail. Several hours and too many numbered trails to remember, we exited at Rockhouse trailhead. Following Todd's lead in the town of Man, we fueled the quads and had lunch.
Returning to the trail with newfound energy, the Windrock group couldn't help but engage in a friendly snowball fight. Club president, Larry "Red" Hudgins, seemed to be the most chosen target while ?the magazine guy?(me) seemed to be off limits. (Advantages of carrying expensive cameras or the fear of the power of the press?) Todd rounded up the group before we became frozen bumps in the ground, and lead us back to the warm cabins we left behind that morning.
At the end of the day, one of my questions had been answered. If the trail system is marked, why would you want to hire a guide? Well simple, you tell him the type of trails, time you want to ride and any other details you want accordingly. Your guide will then plan your ride. You will never have to stop and look at a map or worry if you'll make it back by dark. Everything rolls smoothly and it makes for an enjoyable day.
What Las Vegas has done with glitz, glamour and neon, West Virginia took their mountains, scenery and hospitality, played the cards they were dealt and came up with a royal flush. My time there was too short, there are many more trails to ride and things to see. In the words of a famous California governor "I'LL BE BACK".
Cost of Permits:
$75 annual, out-of-state (just lowered from $100)
$25 annual, in-state residence
$35 three-seven day permit
$18 one day permit
Plus 6% sales tax
Permits can be purchased online, at the trailheads, or local vendors. Check the website or call 1-800-592-2217.
The trails are on private land and sections can be closed at any time by the owners. You need to check the trail status before arriving.
Todd Nenni, WV Outback ATV
The Great Bunch from the Windrock ATV Club
David Akers & John David, just because I want to.
Finally, Donna May, owner of the Matewan Depot Restaurant for her home-cooked meals.
Check out her Rider's Book while there!
Hatfield-McCoy Trail System
WV Outback ATV
Windrock ATV Club
Browning Fork Trailhouse
Keeping it NTHEWIND Photography