“Mining” the Future while Preserving the Past: The Challenges of Reconciling Economic Development via the Hatfield McCoy Trail System with Historic Preservation in Southern West Virginia

In May 2012, the Hatfield McCoy Trail System opened a new trailhead in Bramwell, West Virginia, whose reputation had already been established as the “town of millionaires” due to the higher than average per capita number of wealthy coal operators who established the community in the late 19th century. While the positive economic benefits associated with off-road ATV trails had already been demonstrated in other parts of the state, none of those trails had been established in a residential community recognized for historic preservation of the stately structures connected with the captains of the early mining industry in the region. Visitors to the town had been drawn by a range of publicity in print and in video segments since the 1980s for homes tours and a leisurely walking experience. Residents were accustomed to a quiet existence, and occasional tourists, whether individuals or groups, were not intrusive. However, the idea of noisy ATVs and a different kind of tourist coming into town presented a new dilemma. With so many towns in the state falling into ruin and even disappearing, did we want our community to follow? Would the trail offer economic sustainability to our community?

How did one small town respond to the challenge of weighing the potential benefits against probable disruption of everyday life if ATVs were allowed within the city limits? This presentation outlines what has happened in the five years since the Pocahontas trailhead opened in Bramwell and how we are balancing a new industry as we continue to preserve our history.