February 2021 | Vol. 1, Issue 2
A message from the Chairman of Southwest Regional Recreation Authority
Reminiscing & Celebrating Spearhead Trails – Part 1
I‘m so pleased and proud to be part of Spearhead Trails.
From Concept to Reality
It all began when the Virginia Tourism Corporation, based in Richmond, VA, started getting requests for ATV trails in Southwest Virginia — ATV trails similar to West Virginia’s Hatfield-McCoy Trails. The first meeting was held Sep. 5, 2007 in St. Paul, VA. I was fortunate to be part of it.
From there the enthusiasm grew to the point where we were able to present a piece before the legislature in Richmond. That had to be done before Dec. 1. We quickly got the ball rolling, got 7 counties to somehow agree to the proposal, and the legislature was in favor of it. Exactly one year later on Sep. 5, 2008, we had adopted by-laws and elected officers. That’s when I was elected chairman. To have done this in just one year thrilled me to no end.
Reviving the Region’s Economy
The 7 counties that comprise the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority’s footprint are coal-producing counties. The coal industry has always been a roller coaster. I previously worked in the coal mines. The last time I was underground was 1988. Having the coal business down for so long has had a great impact on our economy.
That’s why Southwest Regional Recreation was developed. We thought its adventure and outdoor recreation would be an economic development tool for this region. That’s our byline. We’re not in it to make money for Spearhead Trails. We’re in it so that other people can make a living. And so far it’s been a great success. People have opened up various businesses, including repair shops, rental equipment, and restaurants.
St. Paul was our poster child because it proved this trail system can benefit a community. that’s where we opened our first trail. Other towns seemed like they were from Missouri as they essentially said, “You show me that it works and then we’ll get on board.” Well, now everyone’s on board and wants to be like St. Paul. We’ve come a long way.
A Variety of Activities
We’re getting people coming into this area from all over the country. And it’s put us in a position to branch out from ATV trails. Now when I go to the DCR (Dept. of Conservation and Recreation) meetings, we have people in these meetings interested in greenbelts around a city, horse trails, bike trails, 4-wheel-drive trails, hiking trails, etc. Southwest Regional Recreation Authority is interested in ALL types of trails.
Plus, now we’re getting into climbing. We recently met with a group of mountain climbers and we’re planning on installing a climbing gym in our new headquarters. This will allow people to get interested in and learn how to climb, and then take those skills outdoors.
For those that don’t have 4-wheel drive and want a “windshield tour,” we’ve laid out trails in Scott County and Lee County that are anywhere from 75 to 120 miles. The paths are partially on national forests and country roads. They provide access to so much of the natural beauty of this region.
We’ve met so many people that have watched the sun go down a thousand times but have never seen a sunset. But we’ve got so many sunsets here, and we just want to share them with the rest of the world.
Shooting Range Coming
Hopefully by summer we’ll have our indoor shooting range open in the Clintwood area. It’ll be for pistol, shotgun and rifle. Just like with ATV trails; we’re utilizing old strip mines. I never dreamed that someday we’d be placing recreational activities on old strip mines property.
Regardless of how someone feels about the 2nd Amendment, I feel that it’s far better to have a designated area in a controlled environment for any type of shooting. We currently don’t have anything comparable to it. The closest shooting range is in the Bristol area. That one requires a membership. Ours will be fee-based.
Jousting & Other Possibilities
I’d also like to see horseback pistol. As you can imagine, that would have to be in a very controlled environment. I think there are as many horse sports as there are horses, such as jousting. Look at Maryland. Their state sport is jousting — but not the type where you literally knock people off houses. It’s spear and range at a full gallop. I would like to see activities like that introduced to Southwest Virginia. Jousting was never done here, per se, but going back to the time of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” the men would dress up in knights’ regalia and ride the horses. I’ve never seen pictures of them actually jousting, but they could have.
In addition, I’d like to see wagon trains in our region. We’re looking into developing trails that would allow people to ride into town, hitch up their horses at a restaurant, have a meal, and then return to the mountains. This would be similar to what we’ve done with our ATV trails, which allows people to ride into town on their ATVs for food, gas and lodging, and then head back to the trails. We’ve had to work long and hard to get that approved with the legislature. That what makes our system so unique. Hatfield-McCoy may be the only other trail system that offers that.
I would also like to see off-road wheelchair races. That may sound ludicrous, but so many of our veterans are doing this. It encourages them to remain competitive, even though they’re disabled.
We’ve got a lot of good-time opportunities around here. Even though we have no El Capitan, we have many good cliffs and mountains to climb. There’s a mountain climbing club with a gym in Boone, NC that will mark the route for us. And they’re so environmentally sensitive that they won’t disturb any Lycans that may be on rocks. They would route around it.
Next month I’ll share additional thoughts on what makes this region such a desirable destination, as well as what I think about developing horse trails and more.
Jack “Mack” McClanahan
Chairman, Southwest Regional Recreation Authority/Spearhead Trails
VCEDA: A Catalyst for Economic Growth in SW Virginia
We had a virtual sit-down chat with Jonathan S. Belcher the other day. He’s the Executive Director/General Counsel for the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA).
Here are highlights from our conversation:
Q: What is VCEDA and how is it funded?
A: VCEDA is a regional economic development authority created by Virginia’s General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the economic base of the seven-county, one-city, coal-producing region in southwestern Virginia. The organization works very closely with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) —the state’s economic development agency. VCEDA also works with the local industrial/economic development authorities in the region.
The reason VCEDA was created was because of the decline in the coal industry and the need to diversify the area’s economy. We’ve made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to get done.
We’re similar to other regional economic marketing development organizations in the Commonwealth, but one aspect that sets us apart is we also do a significant amount of loan and grant funding. We’re able to do that because of the unique way the General Assembly established our organization and funded us — primarily from a portion of local coal and gas severance taxes. It’s been a really good model for the region. As far as we know, it’s the only model like that in the country.
Since its creation in 1988, VCEDA has helped create approximately 25,000 jobs and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in approved funding for hundreds of projects throughout the coalfield region. Studies have shown that VCEDA has also significantly reduced the region’s unemployment rate and improved the diversification of the region’s economy.
Q: Why did VCEDA decide to fund Southwest Regional Recreation Authority/Spearhead Trails?
A: We’ve funded numerous Spearhead Trails projects, but we don’t provide any operational funding. In fact, we were one of the earliest funders of Spearhead Trails, dating back about a decade. We’ve funded or helped fund a majority of the trails. The first one we’ve funded was Mountain View Trail in Wise County. We’ve since funded Coal Canyon, Ridgeview and others.
It was an interesting process back in the beginning. Even though there was Hatfield McCoy Trails in West Virginia, this was a new concept for Southwest Virginia. There was a lot of support for it, but at the same time there were a lot of questions. Questions from the environmental side and questions from the coal and natural gas industry side because a lot of the trails were going to be built on reclaimed mine land — as well as land that would be near active coal mines and natural gas wells.
Fortunately, we were able to add value beyond funding to our relationship because our board includes representatives from the largest coal companies as well as the largest natural gas company in Virginia. By virtue of those connections, we were able to help coordinate meetings between Spearhead Trails and the coal and natural gas industries to help alleviate a lot of those concerns. This helped get buy in for the concept of Spearhead Trails, thus allowing it to move forward. It was about a six-month process.
There were also concerns about policing of the trails. Spearhead Trails had a plan for that, which took care of those concerns. All of these legitimate concerns were effectively dealt with by Spearhead Trails.
From there it took off quite rapidly and has become the great success that it is today. I don’t think there was ever any lack of support for the concept because all the stakeholders understood what Spearhead Trails could do for the region economically.
Spearhead Trails is a great project and we’re glad to support it anyway we can.
Q: What have you seen Spearhead Trails do to address any environmental concerns and do what it can to take care of the environment?
A: Well, I remember right from the beginning, as I’ve already mentioned, Spearhead Trails addressing environment concerns.
For example, when erosion concerns were discussed, they had a plan to deal with it. I remember all environmental concerns being satisfactorily addressed when this concept was getting off the ground.
Q: What other types of projects does VCEDA Fund?
A: Our main focus is to help to create jobs in the region. We’re always looking to help move companies into the area and help existing businesses to expand. This involves financing, either directly to them or maybe through a county industrial development authority that might be working with the project as well.
These funds can be used for the building, to purchase equipment, and for any other needs they may have. We also provide research data about the area, do a fair amount of the infrastructure funding — such as water and sewer lines for the industrial parks — provide site development, tourism funding, and seed money for start-ups.
Q: What would you say to someone that would want to move to this region, or to a local resident that may want to start a business around one of the Spearhead Trails?
A: A good number of the seed capital grants we’ve provided have been for businesses that have some type of access to the Spearhead Trails, whether it be campgrounds, rental cabins, restaurants or tourism destinations. In fact, the majority of the tourism destinations always mention on their applications about Spearhead Trails being a draw. Spearhead Trails has been great for the region and a great opportunity to go into business. It’s bringing people into the area that have dollars to spend. If there’s not a place to spend those dollars, then they’ll go somewhere else. We need businesses and amenities in our region that can help support growth.
Q: What percent of businesses that you’ve funded would you estimate have been located around Spearhead Trails?
A: As high as 10-15%.
Q: How important do you think having an outdoor tourism economy is to the recovery efforts of the Virginia coalfields?
A: Outdoor tourism is absolutely critical to the economic development of this area. It’s going to require a very well-rounded strategy to diversify and grow the area’s economy.
There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to solve the region’s economic conditions. It’s very hard to replace one or two major industries, such as coal. There simply isn’t another industry that can easily take the place of that. Besides, it’s not good to rely so much on just one industry. It’s better to have a well-rounded approach with small businesses playing a key role. Spearhead Trails and other tourism destinations are very critical to that. We would be remiss if that wasn’t a key strategic focus of this area’s economic development.
Q: An industry wanting to find a new location looks at several factors. Do you think that having robust outdoor recreation assets and popular outdoor recreation activities, such as those Spearhead Trails and VCEDA have developed, will help with future industrial and commercial recruitment?
A: The answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
That’s a topic that comes up quite often when speaking to business prospects, particularly to those from outside the area. Outdoor recreation is especially important to today’s generation. We have Spearhead Trails and outdoor recreation as a key part of our marketing message to industries we’re trying to recruit. Their employees are looking for that type of lifestyle, especially for those working for information technology companies. These people have to spend all day in an office-type environment, so outdoor recreation is very crucial for them. Companies want their employees to have that type of balance in their life.
Q: Have you had a chance to enjoy some of the trails of Spearhead Trails?
A: Yes, they’re excellent. I’ve been on Coal Canyon and Mountain View. Such beauty and such an asset to the area.
7 Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
1. Plan your trip – Check weather, let someone know where you are going and your route, and when to expect you back. Check in with the Ranger Office. Go with others, if possible. Have an emergency communication plan. (Will you have cell phone service? Do you have a solar charger, radio, etc?)
2. Dress for the weather – Wear layers. If it’s wet, bring waterproof gear.
3. Bring water and food – Staying hydrated is vital . Take precautions to prevent your water from freezing. Of course, bring ample food.
4. Protect your feet – Make sure you have proper footwear that’s already been broken in and pretested on a shorter hike. Take precautions to keep your feet dry. During cold weather you need quality socks (wool is recommended). Pack extra socks and keep them warm and dry. Our digits are some of the most vulnerable to frostbite. Watch for blisters. If your feet are cold you might not detect the telltale heat feeling prior to blistering. Carry a blister kit and inspect feet when possible.
5. Bring hiking poles or a walking stick – These can be a life saver. You want to be extra cautious in the cold — particularly when the snow can hide many hazards. Plus, ice creates a slipping hazard, and water crossings can turn deadly if they’re too deep or the ice is too thin to support your weight.
6. Pack wisely – Prepare for the worst. Pack an emergency kit with a thermal blanket, food, water, and other necessities.
7. Bring extra supplies in your vehicle – Be extra prepared by having a back-up supply of food, water, warm cloths, first aid supplies, and other important items safely stored in your vehicle. You never know what you might run out of once you’ve complete your hike.
Give Back To The Community
A tax-deductible donation. Recognition. And free day passes to any of our new indoor or outdoor recreational activities. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it?
Since Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (a.k.a., Spearhead Trails) is a nonprofit organization, generous support from community members like you is key for allowing us to continue developing recreational activities that provide an enormous positive impact in our region. Our 600+ miles of trail systems throughout Southwest Virginia is currently producing an economic impact for the Commonwealth of Virginia of over $25 million annually and created more than 250 full-time jobs.
But now we need your support for several new initiatives.
This spring we’ll be opening a 22,000+ square foot Activity Center in our new headquarters, currently under construction in Coeburn, VA (at the old Coeburn Home Supply warehouse). This facility will feature an axe throwing center, indoor skate park, and a climbing/bouldering gym — along with baseball and softball batting cages. This new Activity Center will host programs geared towards our youth, workforce, and tourists. It will be open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., 7 days a week.
We’re also in the process of building new Sportsman Facilities in Clintwood, VA. This will include rifle, pistol and shotgun ranges of all types, as well as a variety of archery ranges. In addition, we partnered with Clintwood Bible Church to offer indoor archery year-round in their unused gymnasium.
Simply download this donation slip, choose which projects you would like to donate to, and return this slip with your donation. Once your donation is received, we’ll rush your free day passes to you. Regardless of what you choose to donate to, you can use your passes for any of these new activities.
In addition to monetary donations, you can also donate building supplies. Your generous donation will also be recognized with a plaque located at the facility.
Link to donation slip:
What a great way to meet your annual tax-deduction goals!
This trail covers a vast 10,000 acres and has 4 overlooks. This trail is unique in that it allows 4 wheel drive vehicles that are street legal in addition to ATV, UTV, side by side, dirt bikes, and is well suited for dual sport bikes. The trail consist mainly of gravel roads and about 30% of the system is dirt with some sections on the Jewell Valley side consisting of scenic asphalt roads. Riders will find a play area with the same grading system of Green Trails, Blue Trails, and Black Trails as well as some
Yellow Trails for ATV only. This trail was designed for jeeps/ 4-wheel drive and street legal vehicles so users may find the rating of these trails easier than most of the other trails in our system. This trail also features a play area for jeeps and has some great wildlife viewing.
Ranger Tyler Whited takes pride in working in Tazewell County. He patrols The Original Pocahontas and Jawbone Trails for the county. Take a ride along with Tyler and enjoy the beauty of Tazewell County!!
Join Spearhead Trailblazers
Please sign up below to be a volunteer with Spearhead Trailblazers. This is our friends’ group, and they do many activities to help the various communities we serve. Last year they participated in 16 events and raised over $600 funding for local charities (including P.A.W.S of Russell County, Toys for Tots, The Friends of the J. Fred Matthews Memorial Library, and the Town of Coeburn – Ringley Park). Spearhead Trailblazers was also able to donate over 300 hours for community service though the USDA – Forest, community projects, and the Adopt-a-Street program.