WELCH, W.Va. – The infamous Hatfield and McCoy blood feud in the second half of the 19th century is the face of this mountainous Coal Country that’s presented to the world.
Unlike the charming but fictional Mayberry that is all that much of the world knows of Mount Airy and the rest of the hometown area, the onetime big feud on the West Virginia and Kentucky line is a dark and bloody true story of more than a dozen murders suffered by both sides, home invasion, arson, nine imprisonments and one hanging, of Ellison “Cottontop” Mounts.
Yet just as in Mount Airy, Coal Country has turned a popular story into a new, burgeoning industry and even a way of life.
All-terrain vehicles – ATVs — commonly known as four-wheelers, are the bane of the hometown area. Landowners fear them, put up No Trespassing signs and trail cameras against them. They’re protective of their properties because of the ruts and other damage that the off-road vehicles can do to woods, pastures and bottom land. Law enforcement back home gets summoned over unauthorized ATV use, and our trail promoters have battled resistance fueled by landowners’ ATV suspicions.
But on the other hand, here in Coal Country they’ve embraced the four-wheeler culture, building big, long trails specifically for ATVs at a pace that would make our walking-trail folks back home swoon. And, of late, they’ve begun welcoming four-wheelers even in town and on the highways.
ATVs became street legal in West Virginia last year. So here in this town disheartened by the depressed coal industry the four-wheelers whiz by along with the cars and trucks as folks go to the store or cruise town and countryside, proud and equal to the other traffic.
And word is getting around.
At the Welch Bantam Market convenience store, a big wall map of the U.S. invites ATVers to mark where they’re from with a push pin. Our western half of North Carolina has more push pins in the map than anywhere else except for southern West Virginia itself.
“West Virginia is rapidly becoming the center of the ATV world,” boasts the Beckley-based Southern West Virginia tourism office.
It started in 2000 with the creation of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, a system that has grown to link 10 trail systems, including the Devil Anse Trail in the heart of feuding country, and extending 700 miles in nine counties with hundreds more miles in the works.
Its success had led to the creation of other trails in the state as well as businesses birthed from them, like ATV resorts and inns, lodges and cabins, and restaurants. “ATV-Friendly Community” are on town signs and “Welcome Trail Riders” are emblazoned on mobile signs at cafes.
Parked en masse at such establishments are not the open-cockpit toys favored by under-age kids who can’t drive yet. No, the big, mud-covered ATVs here are two-seater Polaris, Cam-Am, Arctic Cat and other models that can cost tens of thousands. With tops and windshields, these four-wheeled big, bad boys offer nearly 200 horsepower, liquid-cooled four-stroke engines, 22-inch knobby tires, disc brakes and independent suspension.
North Carolina has its private ATV trails, the nearest being the 100-mile, southside Brushy Mountain Motor Sports Park on the other side of Kilby Gap south of Wilkesboro.
But otherwise, when we here in the hometown think of trails we think of tame walking/jogging, bicycling and horseback riding. How long will it be before we begin to sincerely include the ATV community as well?
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.