By John McFerrin
A proposal for an expansion of the Hatfield-McCoy trail system for All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) in Wayne County has come and gone, leaving what many had seen as a problem unaddressed.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers owns the land surrounding East Lynn Lake in Wayne County. It does not, however, manage the land. Instead, it leases it to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. The DNR manages it as a Wildlife Management Area; hunting is a prominent use.
Even though ATV riding is not legal on a wildlife management area, it is widespread at the East Lynn Wildlife Management Area. This has resulted in various problems such as open dumps on the property. Riding in an unsafe manner is also a concern.
To solve these problems, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority proposed that it assume control of approximately 9,000 acres of the approximately 24,000 acre Wildlife Management Area. It would build or improve about 48 miles of trails in the area it controls. At the same time, it would decommission about 116 miles of trails in the part of the Wildlife Management Area which would remain under the control of the Department of Natural Resources. The net effect of this would be to move the ATV use off of the Wildlife Management Area that DNR manages for wildlife, including hunting, and onto the area managed by the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.
The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreational Authority maintains a system of over 700 miles of ATV trails in southern West Virginia. Having it operate trails in the Wildlife Management Area would mean that the trails would be better maintained. Authority management would also bring with it rules such as safety rules, age limits for riding, bans on alcohol and littering, prohibitions on leaving marked trails, etc. If the Authority’s management of the other trails in its system is any guide, there would be law enforcement to enforce these rules. The Authority would also charge a fee to use the trails.
To some, this seemed like an ideal solution. The ATV users would still have a place to ride but, because of the management of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreational Authority, it would be in a more controlled manner that would prevent problems from developing.
Others didn’t see it that way. The Department of Natural Resources didn’t like the plan because it would lose well over a third of its Wildlife Management Area. Loss of part of the Wildlife Management Area would not be popular with those who used it, particularly hunters.
The most vocal opponents were the present ATV users of the Wildlife Management Area. They liked the status quo. Even though the prohibition on ATVs in a Wildlife Management Area makes the status quo is illegal, there is no effective enforcement. The present users enjoy the freedom from rules that the status quo offers, even referring to the trails as “outlaw trails” and articulating their goal as maintaining their freedom and their “outlaw trails.”
In the face of the opposition, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority has abandoned the idea. While it would like to expand its network wherever appropriate, it has little enthusiasm for a project in the face of such opposition. It has other projects it could pursue.
So we are left where we began. There is nominally illegal activity going on on public lands. One idea to solve the problem did not work. We will see if the Department of Natural Resources or someone else has any other ideas. It has said publically that it will increase patrols in the area. The effectiveness of this solution depends, as it so often does, on the resources it has, the other demands upon those resources, etc.