May 2021 | Vol. 1, Issue 6
Message from the Director
The Truth Behind Trail Closures
I will endeavor in this month’s message to clear up any misconceptions or confusion over why trails in our vast trail system are sometimes closed.
First, let’s put things into perspective. Southwest Regional Recreation Authority/Spearhead Trails operates approximately 600 miles of off-highway and/or motorized trails in Southwest Virginia. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that these trails require constant maintenance to keep them safe and environmentally sound. Spearhead Trails takes this responsibility very seriously. It’s always one of our organization’s highest priorities.
This Herculean effort can be compared to maintaining a highway system. Highways and roadways will inevitably have potholes, cracks, and other issues arise between paving cycles. Nobody likes it when a lane is closed or — even worse — when a detour reroutes traffic miles out of the way. But we’ve learned to live with it. Another example is litter, which can occur unintentionally (such as unsecured items flying out of a moving pick-up truck’s flatbed) or intentionally. Even though it’s incomprehensible that some people purposely choose to litter, litter clean-up is unfortunately an ongoing battle.
In any of the previous scenarios, as well as other similar examples, there will be complaints from the public on what you’ve not done and (if you’re lucky) compliments on what you have done.
Most who know of and see the efforts Spearhead Trails has undertaken to improve and maintain these former outlaw trails applaud us for our efforts. Had these remained outlaw trails, far more harm would have been done to the environment (and no trespassing laws broken).
We appreciate the riders, property owners, and environmentalist that see and bring to our attention any trail issues. This is a good thing that’s helpful to all. Each issue is prioritized and rectified as quickly as possible. With 600 miles of trail and with the nature of dirt and gravel roads in remote areas — along with ever-changing mountain climate conditions that can make a trail unsafe or cause an environmental issue — having additional eyes out for these issues is an immense help to our organization.
Oftentimes when these issues are brought to our attention, they’re already known and a plan to correct the issue is already underway. Sometimes we have to make decisions to close some trails if the issue requires permits to fix or if they’re causing a significant impact to rider safety or the environment. Most issues are extremely minor and are quickly remedied. The majority of trail closures are temporary and only last a day or a few days. Others can last a week or several months. In more rare cases, it could merit a permanent closure.
Why Trails Are Closed
Trail closures are very common with any large trail system.
The decision to close a trail is never made because of a complaint received by an outside individual. It can, however, occur from an order by the property owner or a regulator. But in most cases, it’s simply our decision to close a trail to protect our riders, property owners, and the environment.
We don’t always tell why or when a trail might be closed, but we try to update our maps at least twice annually. When we know a closure is permanent or long term, we’ll often use social media to get the word out. But usually trail closures or reroutes happen within a few days, weeks or months — making it challenging to educate everyone on these closures.
There are a number of reasons for a trail closure, including:
• storm event causing trail blockage
• utility or other work being conducted on or nearby
• a land dispute
• family funeral
• environmental issue
• pandemic (we closed down all of our trails for 6 weeks last year due to COVID concerns)
Please always respect our signs and closures. Do not try to bypass closed trails or remove any signage. Doing so could endanger your own life or those that follow. It could also cause harm to the property — which would then make you liable.
Oftentimes trails just need to be closed because too much wear and tear has occurred, and it’s better to abandon the trail for several years and let the area heal and rest from trail use before reopening.
Not Public Land
We remind riders that the land we operate on is not public land. This land is owned by private individuals or organizations that allow our use of the property (typically at no expense) to provide recreational opportunities to our region and to help create jobs.
Did you know in the Coalfield Region it’s not uncommon for a single property to have a different surface owner than the owner of the timber, mineral or gas rights? It’s even possible to have 4 owners of different rights on the same piece of land. At times that coordination can become complicated, requiring us to diligently work with each owner to protect everyone’s interests.
A First for a Trail System
Later this year Spearhead Trails will likely become the first trail system in the United States to become an Annual Standards and Specifications holder. This program will help us to manage the environmental quality of our trails and conduct maintenance more effectively and build more new trails than in years past. In 2020, Spearhead Trails and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have studied and worked on this issue.
We’ve also worked on developing a database of the best practices we could find that could be adapted to our trail system and those will be proposed to DEQ within the next few months for approval. In the meantime, Spearhead Trails staff — including our rangers — have undergone training and certifications programs to manage this new system.
Enjoy & Preserve the Beauty of SW VA!
Please continuing to enjoy our trails. Many have asked to volunteer to help us in our efforts to maintain and build high-quality trails that protect the environment. Please watch for opportunities to volunteer. Consider becoming a Trail Blazers ambassador. Our ambassadors help us clean up creeks and trash dumps, build and maintain trails, run events, and raise money for various charities.
In conclusion, most trail closures only require minor repairs. Others will be rerouted. When trails are reopened, they’re often 100 times better than before and have better safeguards for the environment and are safer for the users.
L. Shawn Lindsey
Meet Virginia State Senator Travis Hackworth – Part 2
Here’s the rest of our conversation with Virginia State Senator Travis Hackworth. (Part 1 was published in our April newsletter.)
Q: What do you think about the economic impact of Spearhead Trails?
Today, there are thousands that come from all over to enjoy the Spearhead Trail Systems. What our counties have done is back this fully and help fund this. We encourage not only tourists and other people to come, but also our local people to try the trails out. We have the UTVA Roundup every summer that attracts thousands of tourists and vendors. Just the economic portion of that has been wonderful for southwest Virginia.
Spearhead Trails has really turned a lot of these old logging roads, gas roads, and coal mine sites into something that is profitable and enjoyable. We groom the trails and make sure they’re environmentally friendly. It’s just been a wonderful initiative, both economic and entertainment-wise, for the locals because it draws tourists.
I was over at the Coal Canyon trailhead last March, and it was just amazing to see the people from states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And it was cold that day at the opening of the trail! Yet people were still so excited to be there. It’s just such an economic boost to southwest Virginia, and we know it’s going to continue to grow.
Q: What do you plan to do to help with the economy in the 38th Senate District?
Years ago, we would often laugh when we talked about tourism is southwest Virginia. We’d ask, “What do we have here?” But then the more I really started taking that serious, there were several counties that hired tourism directors and it started taking root. We’ve seen that turn into real dollars for our economy. So, we’re committed to helping grow the tourism and the economy in the 38th district, along with incentivizing our small businesses.
One thing we don’t have (or is just starting) is we need to get some outfitters in here that will do the kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. We have a few that do it as a hobby, but it would be great to have an actual outfitter company here. We’re going to reach out and try to get that done.
I was talking with the director of Breaks Interstate Park, and rock climbing is a big deal that they’re starting. We have the channels, the Devil’s Bathtub, Wise County — we have so many beautiful places that we want to spotlight to help the economy and tourism.
And then on a parallel course we went halfway around the world in 2013 to Israel to see if there were any economic opportunities we could learn about. We were introduced to Pure Salmon, an aquaculture company that farms salmon. I, along with Delegate Will Morefield of the Virginia General Assembly, were very instrumental in working and Pure Salmon and having them provide the technology so we could bring the world’s largest, vertically integrated indoor aquaculture and processing facility to southwest Virginia.
The project is called “Project Jonah.”We’ll be raising salmon from incubation all the way from flash freezing them and shipping them out. It’s a huge shift in what we’ve been doing here in southwest Virginia. It will create over 200 new jobs for our workforce. We’re really excited about that.
We’ve previously been primarily focused on the coal industry, the energy industry, and some manufacturing. But we think aquaculture is going to have a big impact on the economy in the next decade. We’re going to do everything we can to push that.
It’s going to be wonderful. It should be up and running in 2023. They’re starting the groundwork now. It’s going to be a huge facility — the size of 28 football fields — located on the Tazewell and Russell County lines, behind the Southwest Community College.
Also, we’re working with providers in bringing Broadband to the rural community. We’re trying to entice some of the Millennials to move here and enjoy the beautiful scenery, the activities, the trails, and the opportunity to work from home.
Free Day Pass for COVID Health Care Workers
The Board of Directors of Southwest Regional Recreation Authority/Spearhead Trails is honoring COVID front-line health care workers with a free day pass for their hard work and sacrifice in fighting this global pandemic. This includes paramedics, doctors, nurses, therapists, mental health workers, hospital food service workers, and janitorial staff who worked with the public in the healthcare profession during the pandemic.
The free day pass is worth $30 and is available anytime in July by following these 3 simple steps:
|1.||Email proof of eligibility to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The proof needs to include a description of your work during the pandemic and proof of employment (such as a picture of your employee identification badge or letter from your employer).|
|2.||Choose from one of these 3-day passes: motorized trails, Sportsman Complex or Activity Center|
|3.||Indicate the day you would like to use your free day pass.|
Upon receipt of your email, you’ll receive a waiver to complete.
The Sportsman Complex — opening later this spring — features archery and gun ranges. The new Activity Center — opening this July — features a climbing gym, ax throwing, batting cages, 4D archery simulator, skate park, and other games.
“This is a small way of saying thank you,” said Spearhead Trails Chairman Jack “Mack” McClanahan. “Thank you for saving our lives and lives of our families during this most challenging year! We hope to see you soon.”
Give Back to the Community
Being a nonprofit organization, we need your support for several new initiatives.
In exchange, you’ll receive a tax-deductible donation, recognition, and free day passes to any of our new indoor or outdoor recreational activities!
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 it’s created more than 250 full-time jobs.
We’re 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.
What a great way to meet your annual tax-deduction goals!
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.