January 2021 | Vol. 1, Issue 1
A message from the Executive Director
Happy 2021 y’all! I hope you enjoy Spearhead Trails’ new newsletter. Email us your feedback.
Wow — what a year 2020 was for Spearhead Trails!
Due to the pandemic, we faced a short-term trail closure in the spring — during what is typically our busiest time of the year. Plus, many of the businesses around our trails, like campgrounds and inns, had mandatory shutdowns. Fortunately, most of these businesses have bounced back.
During the shutdown we were able to focus our efforts not only on staff training but also on trail maintenance. That includes helping USDA Forest on their trail maintenance and repairing bridges in the Clinch Ranger District. When we reopened, we saw large numbers of people returning to the trails. Many were visiting them for the first time just to find something to do while staying safe during the pandemic. We appreciate all who chose to visit us as a way to stay healthy mentally and physically during this unprecedented year.
Thanks to you, we’re currently producing an Economic Impact for the Commonwealth of over $25 million annually while supporting more than 250 full-time jobs. These numbers continue to grow.
New Archery & Gun Ranges
In addition, Spearhead Trails was busy building both indoor and outdoor archery ranges. These were funded by a grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority. We’re also building outdoor gun ranges, which were funded by The Virginia Tobacco Revitalization Commission and a grant from the National Rifle Association. The archery ranges will begin opening this month, and gun ranges hopefully by spring.
The staff is currently busy planning events for 2021. We think you’re going to find so much more to do in our region in 2021 than ever before. From ATV and dirt bike riding and events, to jeep and dual sports rides, equestrian activities, monthly archery and gun sport events, as well as mountain biking, hiking and kayaking.
We’re committed to becoming the most environmentally sound trail system in the country. Our staff has been engaged in training with the Department of Environmental Quality and from trail construction and maintenance experts. Our new Standards and Specification Program will help us more effectively manage our existing trails, build new ones, improve long-term trails maintenance, and make our trails safer for the riders — all with the goal of protecting the environment in the best way possible. We even hired a new position at Spearhead Trails to oversee this process. Nick Woods is our Engineer and Nonmotorized Trails Manager. He’s tasked with spearheading this effort. (See separate story in this newsletter.)
New Backroads to the Cumberland Webpage
We’ve launched a new webpage featuring our Backroads to the Cumberland. Additional maps and materials will be available later this year as we’re still perfecting these street legal routes and maps. Grinder bicycles, explorer bikes, and all-wheel-drive vehicle riders love to take scenic road trips back in the mountains and farmlands to learn about the culture, history, and natural beauty of our region. Be on the lookout for these new map books once the routes are finalized.
I want to thank each of you for your support and hope you return often to Spearhead Trails.
L. Shawn Lindsey
New Headquarters Coming Soon!
Southwest Regional Recreation Authority of Virginia, a.k.a. Spearhead Trails, was created by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2008 to help build a recreation economy to bolster the declining coal economy.
The initial years were challenging as we had no funding. Slowly, various grants and funding from counties and municipalities trickled in and we were able to hire an Executive Director. This was followed by hiring one field person, then a part-time office position. By 2016 we grew to 5 full-time positions. We also hired a few contractors.
Most of the work was done from home or a humble, single-room office supplied for free in St. Paul. We later moved to the City of Norton. Much of the equipment maintenance was performed in a rented storage room.
Humble beginnings, to say the least!
From 5 to 17 Full-time Employees
During the past three years Spearhead Trails has called the train depot in Coeburn our home. This location, along with a garage for storing and maintaining our equipment, was graciously donated by the town. While based here our staff has grown from 5 to 17 full-time positions. We expect to hire at least 4 part-time employees by this spring.
Our equipment has also grown considerably. We started in 2016 with just a smattering of equipment. Today, we now have a large fleet of dozers, excavators, skid steers, tractors, mowers, pickup trucks, SUVs, side-by-sides, 4 wheelers, dirt bikes, equipment haulers, trailers, and even a dump truck. This growth was made possible by several grants from Tobacco Revitalization Commission Funding, Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Funding, Recreational Trails Program, and Appalachian Resource Commission. Funding was also received from direct appropriations from Commonwealth and of course from the many permit holders.
Despite this rapid growth, Spearhead Trails has never owned any property. That’s because our trails are on private property, which are mainly owned by large property owners. Our current office and garage are owned by the Town of Coeburn.
Moving to 22,000+ Square Foot Coeburn Home Center
We’re excited to announce Spearhead Trails recently purchased the former Coeburn Home Center — a 22,000+ square-foot building on 5 acres. Rangers, contractors and temporary laborers are currently remodeling this building to be our new, and long-term, home. The offices, storeroom and lobby will provide plenty of room for our staff, equipment and visitors.
We plan to move into our new facility by this summer.
Pending funding, it will feature several indoor and outdoor activities within this large warehouse. We’re currently planning ax throwing, climbing walls and boulders, batting cages, and other typical outdoor activities. Our vision is to make this new office be a “super trailhead” for all our activities. It will even feature merchandise related to trails in the 7 Coalfield Counties and the City of Norton — giving visitors a taste of what each area has to offer.
Also, during inclement weather, we hope Spearhead Trails’ guests will choose to visit our headquarters for a day indoors. That will provide a wonderful opportunity to meet the locals, which we hope will use the same facilities for shopping and recreation, as well as participating in the many programs that will eventually be offered.
Trail Engineer and Nonmotorized Manager Hired
Spearhead Trails hired Nick Woods in October to be our new Civil Engineer and Nonmotorized Manager. He has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering Technology from East Tennessee State University and a Masters in Structural Engineering from the University of Alabama. Nick has experience in hydraulics and hydrologic engineering, roadway drainage collection and conveyance design, site design, project management, field analysis and inspection, and environmental design work.
He’s also a veteran and combat engineer with the Marine Corp. He recently transferred to the Air National Guard where he hopes to graduate from Officer Candidate School later this year and continue his work as a Civil Engineering Officer for the Air National Guard.
Nick will be working hard designing and opening ranges this spring, as well as overseeing the design work of the new headquarters. One of his most important tasks is revamping our trail maintenance and construction programs to make Spearhead Trails a Standards and Specification Holder with the Department of Environmental Quality.
He loves the outdoors and serving his community and country. Nick and his wife have one daughter.
Profile: Larry Yates, Mayor of Haysi, VA
Take a Break in the Welcoming Town of Haysi
The quiet town of Haysi, VA is home to two Spearhead Trails: Haysi’s Ridgeway Trail and Haysi Breaks Hiking and Biking Equestrian Trail. The town is nestled near the junction of the McClure River with the Russell Fork River and Russell Prater Creek, all tributaries to the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. With a population of approximately 500 citizens (nearly tripled from 20 years ago), the town serves about 3,500 residents in the Northwest sector of Dickenson County. Haysi is also Virginia’s gateway to the Breaks Interstate Park and is “Where Your Break Begins.
Haysi Mayor Larry Yates has been heavily involved with Spearhead Trails since its inception and has served on the board for the past 10 years. He was elected mayor July 2008, after previously serving in community development.
He says he initially saw Spearhead Trails as “a wonderful opportunity for our community to encourage economic development through tourism. We had been in a declining economy here in the coalfields for decades. We were trying to think of new, more sustainable ways to drive the economy. That’s when state, regional and city representatives and I started working to turn Southwest Virginia into a tourism destination. With the increased interest and popularity of motorized recreational vehicles, like ATVs and side-by-sides, we felt like our area perfectly fit the needs of those riders.”
Mayor Yates is a 4th-generation coalminer. He’s witnessed firsthand some of the damage done to the local environment back in the very early years of surface mining.
“Spearhead Trails has been able to go into those areas not previously open or accessible to the public and correct many environmental issues,” he said. “They’ve been very conscientious about cleaning up our waterways, as well as doing all they can to remedy soil and erosion issues. And the organization has had very little impact regarding deforestation.”
Breaks Interstate Park
As previously mentioned, Haysi is the gateway to Breaks Interstate Park. It’s only about 10 miles downstream from the town on the Russell Fork River. This 4,000-acre park covers part of Virginia and Kentucky, although the largest portion is located in Virginia. This is one of only two interstate parks in the U.S. It’s accessible via the two Spearhead Trails connected to Haysi. Some 300,000 visit Breaks Interstate Park annually.
Mayor Yates feels the future is bright for Spearhead Trails and Haysi.
“I can see Spearhead Trails being a one-stop shop for any form of outdoor adventurism, whether it’s motorized trails or nonmotorized trails. Plus, we do all we can to make our trails handicap accessible,” said Mayor Yates.
The ample outdoor adventures, lodging, dining and friendly residents may make Haysi one of the most welcoming places on earth.
We have so much undeveloped property. We worked with one landowner who had thousands of acres and started developing trails.
Trailhead at Doran Update
Even though the Jawbone trail is open, the trailhead at Doran is closed. In the meantime, riders need to access the trail from Coal Canyon at the Jewel Valley Whitewood trailhead.
When will the trailhead in Doran reopen? Although we can’t give you an exact date, we’ve been in touch with the mining company to expedite the reopening. The mining company is working to reclaim part of the main trail that we’ll be using so the mining permit can be released for the road portion that will become our trail. This will allow us to reopen this trailhead.
In the meantime, we’re planning to expand this trail by working with property owners to obtain the necessary easements. We hope to have additional trailheads in Richlands and eventually connect this trail to the Original Pocahontas System and Coal Canyon at Grundy.
Once Coal Canyon at Grundy is connected to Ridgeview Trail in Haysi, its several hundred miles could become one of the longest continuous trails. Jawbone and Coal Canyon at Jewell Valley remain our only trails open to 4-wheel drive street legal vehicles. We hope to establish additional jeep/4-wheel drive trails and some obstacle course or playgrounds in the near future.
The Original Pocahontas Trail
Backroads of the Cumberlands
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.