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EDITORIAL: Lodging Crisis in Mercer County, Virginia:
What is the plan for off-road visitors?

Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 09, 2012--Hatfield-McCoy Authority Executive Director Jeff Lusk says lodging facilities are still "desperately needed" along the new Pocahontas Trail system in Mercer County.

This isn't the first time Lusk has made this plea. He's been urging Mercer County officials, and local entrepreneurs, for the past several years to prepare for the looming influx of off-road visitors who are on their way to the Bramwell and Matoaka communities. Have our local officials been listening? Apparently not. And now the clock is ticking. Hundreds of out-of-town visitors will be here in 18 days.

No one should be surprised by the arrival of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. We've known since 1996 that the trail system would ultimately be developed in Mercer County. Now it's here. And it would appear we may not be ready.

Lusk says the lack of lodging is the "biggest threat" facing the new Mercer County trail system. The trail itself opens on May 25. While it can be correctly argued that there are plenty of hotels and motels in Princeton and Bluefield, the out-of-town visitors prefer -- if they have a choice -- to stay closer to the actual trail system.

The existing six-county trail system currently attracts more than 30,000 visitors a year, and 80 percent of those visitors are from out of state. The new Pocahontas segment of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail will be the first trail system that visitors from the Interstate 77 and 81 corridors will reach. So it stands to reason that hundreds of trail riders -- and thousands over a period of months -- will need places to stay, eat, shop and buy gas along the trail system.

The town of Bramwell is doing a commendable job to prepare for the trail system. Mayor Louise Stoker is to be applauded for her ongoing efforts to secure and encourage additional ATV lodging and bed and breakfast facilities in the town. But the town can't do it alone. And town officials shouldn't be expected to do it alone. Locally elected county and state officials should be aggressively working to locate, secure and promote new lodging, convenience stations, stores and other facilities for the out-of-town visitors. But have they?

So what is the plan? What is being done to attract these businesses near or along the trail corridor? What is the plan to promote other regional attractions and events to the out-of-town visitors? After all, they will be looking for other things to do while riding the trails in Mercer County. So what will be done to educate the out-of-town visitors about not only the Bramwell Train Depot, but also the railroad museum in Princeton, the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton, Pinnacle Rock State Park, Pipestem State Park, Camp Creek State Park, the Ridge Runner at Lotito Park in Bluefield, the Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays, the East River Mountain Overlook in Bluefield, local malls and shopping centers, and even the weekly downtown flea market in Bluefield?

What is the plan to divert these out-of-town visitors to these and other attractions across Mercer County?

No one on the county or state level has shared any such plans with this newspaper. We hope there are plans in place. If not, our local officials have 18 days to figure it out.

Opportunity is knocking. Shame on us if we aren't ready.


(c)2012 the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, W.Va.)

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