PROFILE: MATTHEW BALLARD
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail system is one of the greatest things in the ATV world. Literally hundreds of miles of trails are open and accessible to the public, and more are being planned. They host big ATV jamborees, have corporate sponsors, and really work to keep ATVing alive and well. We took a few minutes to speak with Matthew Ballard, executive director of the HMT, and pick his brain about everything HMT-related. We got what we wanted, and then some, from the affable Mr. Ballard.
Dirt Wheels: What is your position in terms of the Hatfield-McCoy trails, how long have you been there, and what do you do exactly?
Matt Ballard: Since 2003 I have served as the Executive Director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, commonly referred to as the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. I basically oversee the operation, marketing, development, maintenance, and law enforcement of the trails, along with a board of directors.
DW: Describe the H-M Trails. Where are they, how long have they been in existence, is it public land, what state(s) are they in, costs, permits required, how many miles of trails, that kind of thing.
MB: The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority is a public corporation which was created statutorily by the state of West Virginia. We manage a trail system which lies almost completely on private land in West Virginia. The first trails (300 miles) opened in October of 2000; we currently have four separate trail systems totaling 400 miles, and by May of 2004 we will open our fifth trail system bringing our total mileage to 500 miles. The goal of phase one is to have 2000 miles.
The trails systems are open to ATVs, dirt bikes, mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrian users. Permits are required to use the trail system and there are four types of permits. The one-day permit is $18, the 3-7 day permit is $35, and then there are two types of annual permits, one for out-of-state residents which is $75 and one for West Virginia residents, which is $25 (due to public funding).
DW: We think the HMT is one of the greatest things to happen to ATVing and for enthusiasts. To help keep the sport alive and growing, what is required to start the same type of trail system? Bureaucracy, state legislation, etc?
MB: The first concept of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails materialized in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s three men began to push the idea by floating the information to all the stakeholders. This included large landowners, manufacturers, our legislature, and local economic leaders. Locally, Art Kirkendoll, who is now the Chairman of the Board which oversees the trail system, believed their idea could work, and he began assisting the three men at the local level. He wanted to help the project along, which he believed would create economic development in his county as well as preserve riding areas for local motorized users. Then several large landowners, who also believed the idea could work, were brave enough to “sign on” to the project. Other local leaders from neighboring areas joined the group and the Hatfield-McCoy Recreation Coalition was formed. This group eventually morphed into the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority that is the managing agency of the trails today.
That sounds simple, but there was legislative action that our state leaders had to craft, to create a government entity that would manage trails on primarily private land. Insurance was another big hurdle.
Basically, it took 13 years from when the concept was developed until the first trail was built. To explain it all, a person would need an entire book! The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are one of the most inventive agencies I have ever worked within. It can be done; it just takes time and careful planning.
DW: Tell us about the major ATV events that are held at HMT and how the public can find out more.
MB: For 2004 the trail system will host four major events. First is the “Mountain State ATV Jamboree” in April, next is a “National Free Weekend” which will be in late May, then the “Suzuki Dirt Days on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails” which is in June, and in October we will celebrate the 4th Annual “Hatfield-McCoy Trailfest.” Check out our web site at www.trailsheaven.com and click on upcoming events. Each event is filled with fun and excitement with, of course, trail riding, poker runs, mud pits, entertainment, and great food.
DW: Let’s talk about the trails. Are they difficult, easy, both? What are the most popular routes and why?
MB: As a trail user, you will receive a map of each of our trail systems when you purchase your permit. Each trail within each trail system (each system is approximately 100 miles of trail) is broken down into three colors. The trails labeled green are the easiest trails, blue is more difficult, and black is expert only. We also provide many miles of singletrack which is labeled on our maps as orange and is always most difficult. There is something for everyone! The system lies within the Appalachian Mountains, so there is great diversity amongst the trails.
DW: Are any new trails being opened, or similar news for our readers?
MB: Our newest trail system will be known as the Pinnacle Creek Trail system. It will open in May of 2004. We will announce the grand opening on our web site, and will host the National Free Weekend at this time. This will give everyone an opportunity to explore the new system and the trails for free!
DW: Who rides these trails?
MB: We host an extremely diverse group of trail users. We’ve had visitors from forty-seven states and six countries. About 85 percent of our riders are male and 15 percent female, which exceeds the national average of female use of off-highway vehicles, which is about 13 percent.
DW: Is it on-trails only, or can riders explore the woods and blaze trail?
MB: Riders must stay on the trail. As a matter of fact, this is a strict rule at Hatfield-McCoy. Because most of our trail system lies on private property, the permit that a user has allows them only to use the designated trails. On other portions of property there might be coal mining, or timbering activity, which could be dangerous, so riders must use the marked trail only.
DW: On an average summer weekend, how busy are the trails?
MB: October of 2003 was our biggest month in history; we sold 3756 permits, but even with those numbers a normal user would not encounter a “busy” trail. We are open year-round, and there are so many miles that you will not really ever find it “crowded.”
DW: Where can visitors stay?
MB: There are a host of lodging accommodations, from primitive camping, to RV sites, to apartments, lodges, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. If you are planning on visiting the trail system it is best to book your room ahead of time, and you can find all the options on our web site under “Accommodations and Packages.”
DW: Will there ever be a full race event at HMT? Any plans for a motocross track or a cross-country course?
MB: We are exploring the possibility of competitive races for the future. I doubt it will happen in 2004, but maybe 2005. It is a process we must work through with our many private landowners. Locally there are a few related race parks, the Rolling Thunder Extreme Race Park, the West Virginia Motor Sports Park and the Delbarton Hillclimb. The first two are local spots with hillclimbs, ATV drag racing and mud pit competitions. The Delbarton Hillclimb also lies within Hatfield-McCoy Country and is an AMA- sanctioned site.
DW: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen on the HMT?
MB: We have an outfitter who does guided tours. He has a dog named Bandit who is the CEO of his company and rides with him on the back of his ATV. It is always good to see Bandit out on the trails; he is a great friend to all trail riders.
DW: Have any famous people ridden at HMT? How about racers, do they show up and trail ride?
MB: Last year Mike Penland from Team Green rode at Dirt Days. I attempted to ride behind him, which was a huge mistake. I ate a lot of dust. Another interesting visit was last year when Mr. Tatsuya Sasaki from Suzuki came to ride the Vinson on our trails. He is one of the designers of the engine in that machine and was interested to see how it performed in the mountains of West Virginia.
DW: If Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston came out and didn’t want to ride with helmets, what would you say?
MB: I would politely ask Mr. Pitt to leave while finding a spare helmet for Jennifer. I would then get one of the new two-seater ATV’s and have her ride with me. I might even forget my map on the way out of the trailhead.
DW: Any last words for the public?
MB: Yes, I would like to thank everyone who has ridden and supported this trail system. We still have a long way to go to continue to preserve riding areas, and make the trails a financially self-sufficient organization. However, with the strong support of our fans, we can meet our goals. If anyone has any questions about the trails they can check us out on the web at http://www.trailsheaven.com or call our office at (800) 592-2217.