A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine was talking about the difference between some of our towns in Southern West Virginia. In particular, he was pointing out how places like Gilbert, Matewan and Man had benefited quite a bit more from the creation of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails than other towns had.
As I pointed out to him, there were various reasons for this….
For one thing, some of our more historic towns like Matewan were fairly much on what the locals called “their last legs.” IE the population numbers were down, businesses were boarded up and so forth. The town of Man, in large parts, looked like a ghost town due to the number of boarded up windows in their downtown area.
Then, a funny thing happened….
You good people came to town….
To ride the new-fangled Hatfield-McCoy Trails of course…and local people like Pat Garland and Terry Fekete and numerous others renovated existing structures into places like Historic Matewan House and The Rockhouse Lodge. Others opened campgrounds and even new hotels like the Holiday Inn and Best Western came to the area….
Within less than two years, Gilbert was suddenly booming again. And all the boarded up structures in Man were now being rented out for more new businesses than you could count. Hatfield-McCoy brought TOURISM to the coalfields and you fine tourists folks brought a healthy injection of MONEY.
You see, for many decades our local leaders had put all the economic eggs in one basket - the Coal Industry. The thing is, as one stunned vendor pointed out to me when his newfangled business investment turned into a bigger money maker than he could ever have imagined, “When tourists come to town and spend money that is new money coming into our area. The thing with coal is that the coal industry makes money, but that money mostly goes out of our area.”
Marshall University did a study on the new tourism economy in West Virginia and found that in fact, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails were bringing MILLIONS into our region. And that was millions in NEW MONEY coming IN from the OUTSIDE. That is why it had such a powerful effect on our local economy, as say, compared to the coal industry, which has always suffered from a cycle of booms and busts. When coal booms, people have money to spend. When the coal cycle busts, money gets tight, but, as my friend noted and as more than one local elected official noted, Tourism money was OUTSIDE money coming in and it had a bigger impact in many ways than anybody could have predicted.
Towns like Gilbert, Man and Matewan really took advantage of the influx of tourism that Hatfield-McCoy offered. Those towns virtually EXPLODED overnight and benefited greatly. People in Man, Gilbert and Matewan took a chance and invested in lodging and food businesses and those investments paid off in a big way. And everybody benefited, from the folks who lived in those towns, which suddenly had an extra influx of Business and Occupation Taxes, to folks who had more places to buy stuff, to the folks who got jobs in those new businesses.
But some towns did not do as good.
To be blunt, some towns fumbled the ball that was offered to them. Case in point was the town of Logan. Some of the folks who used to be on the town council back then did not get too excited about that opportunity and in all honesty, missed the boat, somewhat compared to smaller towns.
There were people on the town council back then who did not like the idea of the trails and there were others who paid too much heed to the various whiners who pooh poohed the idea.
I recall one town council where somebody complained about how ATVs would be noisy…as if the windows up on the second floor of the Newspaper office I used to work in did not get rattled constantly by guys (suffering from an overcompensation complex) riding motorcycles with excessively loud pipes, or even worse, the folks who drove around in an old hoopty car that had a stereo system that cost ten times more than the car blaring the absolute worst taste in music to be had.Sometimes the actual building shook. A concrete building... I can assure you, to this day I have never heard an ATV, Dirtbike or UVE as loud as that.
One member did not like the idea of having to purchase a permit to ride the trails, etc… There were numerous excuses, none of which held water…
Mind you, these naysayers were not bad people...They were just short sighted....and they missed an amazing opportunity for their towns....
And in time, Common Sense came to the fore…Eventually, Logan and other towns reached out to HMT and asked for a Community Connector. Thanks to new people on the council at the time, the town and local businesses actually worked WITH Hatfield-McCoy to get the popular Logan Connector that now connects Bearwallow to the town.
And restaurants in Logan have benefited. And new hotels have come to the Logan area. Slowly, but surely Logan has been working to catch up, and I believe it will happen.
But a lesson was learned.
When Opportunity Knocks that window is not open forever and sometimes you have to jump through as fast as you can. The towns that jumped first benefited the most right from the first.