The Hatfield McCoy Trail System is a popular network of trails in West Virginia, that has put West Virginia on the map as a destination for world class ATV, UTV, and dirt bike riding experiences. As is often the case with areas that build amenities to attract motorized recreation enthusiasts, West Virginia has seen significant economic opportunities arise from increased motorized recreation.
In a recent announcement, the West Virginia Department of Highways released the details for a proposal to establish a new Hatfield McCoy trail system on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers East Lynn Lake property.
The map below shows the proposed trail system.
According to the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
The District has engaged with the Hatfield and McCoy Authority in order to explore a “managed” ATV trails option at East Lynn Lake. The Authority submitted a proposal to manage legal trail riding at East Lynn in September of 2016. The District reviewed this proposal and sought clarification of the Authority’s law enforcement plan and trail routes.
The first step in finalizing the plan is to create an inventory of existing unauthorized trails on the property. The District has authorized the Hatfield McCoy Authority to survey and inventory all trails at East Lynn Lake. That survey began on March 15, 2017 and will be concluded by Sept. 15, 2017.
Upon completion of the inventory, the Hatfield McCoy Authority will provide a management plan to the District who will then evaluate the plan to determine if the Hatfield McCoy Authority is able to improve public safety, reduce the environmental degradation, and address the current unauthorized ATV activity occurring on U.S. Government property at East Lynn Lake.https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Missions/HMATrail/
We have reviewed the proposed plan, and we have received feedback from local stakeholders. The public is invited to comment on this proposal by September 2, 2021. Information on how to comment can be found here:
These are the issues that local stakeholders hope will be considered:
- The Hatfield McCoy Trail system is notorious and popular among our members and the broader OHV recreation community. We support their innovative approach for turning private lands into recreation opportunities for the public. We have also heard from members that there are concerns with the new trail system within a portion of the East Lynn Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Because this proposal would involve a conversion of federal lands managed by the state of West Virginia into a privately managed trail system, the public interest in this management proposal is more significant than if it were simply a private parcel being converted into a recreation trail system.
- NEPA is the federal law that enables federal agencies to consider the broad range of public interests that are in play with a proposal such as this. WVDOH has acknowledged it is completing steps for NEPA, but there doesn’t appear to be a formal NEPA process yet. NEPA is a process that often takes several months or years, and it isn’t clear from the WVDOH announcement where this project is in the process. It appears to be simply in a nebulous pre-NEPA proposal stage. USACE needs to formulate and disclose “significant planning issues,” and the proposal materials from the USACE announcement don’t appear to include disclosed significant planning issues.
- NEPA requires federal agencies to consider a range of alternatives. So far there has only been a proposal that includes one alternative. The US Army Corps of Engineers needs to develop a range of alternatives, so the public can better evaluate the range of issues and impacts with this proposal.
- The plan proposed by WVDOH includes the closure of many routes in the area. There doesn’t appear to be any justification for route closures. We would expect the range of alternatives produced by the NEPA process to include various levels of closures with route inventory reports that analyze the purpose and need of each route and the impacts that would be mitigated through closures. The US Army Corps of Engineers has recognized that many of these trails are unauthorized trails that aren’t recognized as official public roads. It is clear the routes exist on the ground, and they were created because they serve a purpose and need. The process for developing this proposal could be used to formally recognize the trails in question instead of resorting to what appears to be an almost default position of closure. We have concerns that many of these route closures are unnecessary, arbitrary and capricious, and the closures would restrict access to historical/cultural resources that members of the public would wish to access.
- As a private operator Hatfield McCoy requires traffic and safety regulations that are more prohibitive than West Virginia state law. Because this area is public land, alternatives should be explored that formally authorize more routes as public roads in addition to the routes managed by the Hatfield McCoy Authority. These public roads should be managed according to the traffic and safety laws of the state of West Virginia and not the more restrictive safety requirements of a privately operating concessionaire.
- The US Army Corps of Engineers has stated, “The first step in finalizing the plan is to create an inventory of existing unauthorized trails on the property. The District has authorized the Hatfield McCoy Authority to survey and inventory all trails at East Lynn Lake. That survey began on March 15, 2017 and will be concluded by Sept. 15, 2017.” This trail inventory report should be a publicly available document that is included in the NEPA project file.
- US Army Corps of Engineers needs to consider whether route closures will cause a disproportionate social impact to local residents of the area who use routes to access family cemeteries.
Make sure your voice is heard as this process to develop amazing recreation opportunities in West Virginia moves forward. Click here to submit your comment.