(Big Jim Charles has written more words about Hatfield-McCoy from the beginning than any three writers combined. He just loves to share his knowledge about what we do with the public. For some time now, as a CSR, Big Jim has been waiting to be asked "How do they build those trails" and so he has decided to share that information with us all.)
When a new trail system opens up most riders usually take things like the signs, the designs and the incline grades for granted. After all, theHatfield-McCoy Trails are now world famous and are considered to be THE premier ATV trail system in North America.
But the Hatfield-McCoy Field Operations Crew doesn't take them for granted -- because they know the hard work behind the scenes that it takes to make a world class ATV trail worthy of the name, "Hatfield-McCoy".
It is not unusual to hear some locals grumble about how "they built the trails." The reality is, no they didn't. The Field Crew did. Trespassing on private property or old Department of Forestry and logging roads is not "building a trail" no matter how much misinformation or wishful thinking a person may be prone too. I oughta know. I have been on some of the systems before they were open, during the work process and after they were opened to the public. And I can tell you it is a LOT of hard work by some very well trained and talented people who are tops in their field.
Usually, before a new system is opened, our own Deputy Director John Fekete has mapped them,designed them and walked every mile picking out places to put signs upon them. Because there is a lot more to creating a top flight recreational trail system than just accessing old mining roads. It takes a lot of hard work and intricate detail to put a new trail system together. A Hatfield-McCoy trail section comes about with with lots of research and legwork. Many of the trails started out on old logging and gas company routes, and sometimes natural resources extraction still takes place on them, as the trail system is built on private property, not public land.
Years ago, John Fekete graduated from Marshall University with a bachelors degree in Parks and Recreation. He has been with the trail system since it's opening and he can tell you the ins and outs of how to build a trail.
"My career with the Hatfield-McCoy Authority started as an intern back in June of 2000. My first mission was to help open the first 300 miles of trail by October of 2000," Fekete explained.
He furthered his education by attending 2 years of GIS (Mapping, GPS)classes at the Rahall Transportation Institute. That earned him the title of mapping coordinator. He was very involved with the expansionof Boone and Wyoming County trail systems. These and other major accomplishments eventually helped him become Deputy Executive Director.
The actual process of building a trail begins with researching deeds and older maps of an area.
"It is critical that we are careful with our mapping and research,"Fekete said.
After a potential system is identified, the next phase of the project is getting land owners to sign legal agreements in order for ground work to begin.
"We need to get together with the landowners and sign agreements,then we can map out and begin construction of a trail...." John explained when he was a guest speaker at the Lions Club a few years ago. There is a LOT of hard work at every step of the way, including the final steps!
After the mapping agreements are completed the first step is to havethe property inspected — on foot. The second step is a licensingagreement. The next step is a partnership agreement with the landowner regarding their priorities, which often include natural resource extraction and leases. Landowners themselves do not make a profit off having a trail on their land. It is voluntary on their part and what they get is legal indimnification from Hatfield-McCoy's insurance.
After these agreements two employees of the HMRRA will inventory the property with a Global Positioning Satellite. The device is accuratewithin less than an inch and the original unit cost over $5,000. That satellite data is used to work up topography maps, which are created to show how the new section will loop onto existing trail systems. None of the trails are dead ends. They come out in towns or trailheads or onto other trails.
At this point, the employees return and inventory everything in asection including gas wells, camp sites and other features. This means a lot of walking. The Field Crew then works with the accumulated data which is designed and laid out into routes and difficulty ratings. New trails are designed to avoid maintenance problems that affected the original three trails, which had been rushed, initially. All maintenance work is done in house by the field crew. By doing it right the first time, it cuts down on maintenance costs later.
One of the final things done is the instillation of signs on the new trail loop.Currently the Authority has about 500 signs on each trail section.They are installed mostly by hand on 45 pound orange poles. Any change of the signs has to be mapped and approved by the landowner.
"We also have to worry about bonded property, coal and gas and timberextraction and we we don't want to spend $50,000 on a trail systemthat will close for extraction six weeks after it opens," Fekete said.
Today, Fekete is respected as an expert in the field of creating recreational trail systems and he works with other experts in the field on design and mapping including the Rahall Institute.
Anybody who has been on a trail system before, during it's completion and afterword can attest it is a LOT of hard work done by a whole team of very talented and very dedicated people -- The Hatfield-McCoy Trails Field Crew.