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Spearhead Trails sparks new business development and economic growth

Leaving clouds of dust behind them, two ATVs make their way along a dirt access road that quickly disintegrates into a rough trail and the beginning of their Mountain View off-road adventure.

Looked like dads and the kids, and at least one mom, under the helmets as they sped past in their side-by-sides. Four-seaters with windshields, roofs and doors, they’re perfect for families. Despite the $10,000 to $20,000 price tag, their popularity is growing, especially as more and more families take to the trails together.

“We promote the family side of this,” said Brian Fisher, who co-hosts Fisher’s ATV World television series with his wife, Melissa. The two were in St. Paul last week to shoot a second episode on Mountain View for their show and hosted a meet-andgreet Saturday before taking cameras to the trails.

Since filming a year ago, Fisher observed more than just growth at Mountain View. “I see quality,” he said.

Similar sentiments about the trail, families and the atmosphere of family and community echoed throughout Maggie Way Campground on Saturday.

Outdoor adventure sports attract families, and lots of them, trail enthusiasts said time and again, keeping them together, active and having fun. Saturday night, after a day of riding, organizers planned an evening of music with Charlie Engle and Megan Clay, and a bonfire, complete with marshmallows for roasting and s’more stations.

Fisher said it is a misperception that riders of all-terrain vehicles are just loud and rowdy. Muddy and dusty, yes, but words like “family,” “camaraderie,” “community,” “privilege” and “respect” got plenty of use Saturday as trail riders talked about their sport.

Tom Mathews, owner of LunaTecLED lighting based outside Raleigh, N.C., pointed out that even many of the businesses serving the ATV market are family operations, as is his. Under the LunaTec tent that day, Mathews and brother Ben, brothers Marty and Jason Price from Kingsport, Tenn., Phillip Beddingfield of Wake Forest all were involved in marketing the company’s line of LED light bars, tough and durable enough to handle the treatment they get on the trails.

Riders who come to organized trail systems pay for the privilege and respect what comes with it, they all said. There are rules, they follow them and that is the expectation among themselves and — looking across the riders, vendors and visitors in Maggie Way Campground — everyone else there that day, they agreed.

So does Chris Taylor, trail security officer, who’s been on the job since Mountain View opened in June. When there are problems — and there have been precious few — the source is typically local riders, Taylor said. They are the ones who’ve had free — and sometimes illegal — run of trails, minus any fees and certainly no required rules like complying with no trespassing signs, Taylor and Field Operations Supervisor Chris Sturgill said.

Ben Mathews of LunaTecLED does a particular kind of policing on his own — for trash. He can’t stand it and even insists that all the folks who ride with him take along plastic bags — for their trash and any garbage they see along the way.

Following the rules isn’t limited to the trails, they note. Being able to drive their ATVs in town is a privilege, Tom Mathews said, and feels like it every single time they are in a trailfriendly town like St. Paul. The feeling never goes away, he said, so they ride slow — limp through town — and in single file. That’s just the way it is, he said.

PRAISE, PROMISE, POTENTIAL

Along with talk of family, words of praise, promise and potential for Mountain View and St. Paul circulated throughout the campground.

In addition to locals, people came from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee Georgia and Florida, some to get away, others to promote, sell and do business, but virtually all to ride, ride, ride some 70 miles of ATV trails. It’s awesome, riders said, with diverse degrees of difficulty and a good balance of all.

Riders have been coming in growing numbers, from as far away as Montana, with more than a thousand permits sold just since its opening in June.

One family Saturday made an unplanned stop when they heard about Mountain View on their way home to Hampton Roads from Tennessee.

Jim and Sharon Reavis of Mebane, N.C., had seen ATV World’s first episode in March and had been following news of Mountain View since then. So they timed their visit with the show shooting, loaded up their twoseater ATV, their RV pull-behind, and dog Chase and hit the road. They live not quite 30 minutes this side of Durham and their experience on the trail and in town was well worth the three-hour drive, they said.

And people will drive farther, stay longer and spend more, the couple said. Relaxing under the canopy of their RV, they spoke highly and enthusiastically about St. Paul and the trail. Based on their experiences elsewhere, the Reavis’ said the town now needs more places to stay, campgrounds, cabins, home and apartment rentals.

Tom Mathews of LunaTech agreed on the need for accommodations but he and crew were set this visit. They rented the apartments Greg Bailey developed above his hardware store in downtown St. Paul. “Awesome!” he said.

For as important as the trail is, Mathews said, the community experience has to match it. Town people being supportive and involved matters, said his brother Ben. His lunch that day was a fund-raiser for Wise County Christian School, he noted, as he excitedly unwrapped some home-made peanut butter fudge. People want to feel made welcome, they said, and that is precisely what is happening in St. Paul.

So thrilled is Tom Mathews with his experience that LunaTech will make Mountain View its home trail system with sponsorships and a presence at every event. “I like going to a place where the community is on board,” he said. One of the crew is already scoping options for buying property. “I realize this is a moneymaking machine,” he said of the trail system. “That’s what it is. Embrace it. Make it your own.”

The demographic of the ATV riders shows they make money and spend money, Mathews noted. “That’s a $100,000 sitting right over there,” Marty Price said, motioning to about four ATVs parked nearby. “It’s not a poor man’s sport,” his brother Jason added.

It is not uncommon at all for the more affluent riders to buy homes and land in trail-friendly communities, in addition to the spending that they and everyone else does at gas stations and hardwares, grocery and convenience stores, diners and drive-thru’s. The economic impact is “unbelievable money,” Mathews said emphatically.

Bob and Susie Harrison, business and civic leaders in town, were around all day, manning a booth and mingling. They are thrilled by the response to the trail and the effect on St. Paul. No one really knew what would happen until we did it, Mrs. Harrison said.

So far, two new businesses have opened in St. Paul as a direct result of Mountain View and six total have been developed because of the Spearhead trails system, Sturgill said.

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