By Kyle Lovern
MATEWAN – Imagine gliding down the Tug River at 50 mph with the wind blowing your hair back, or slowing down to a crawl while enjoying a breathtaking view of nature’s beauty.
Such an experience is possible now with the Hatfield-McCoy Airboat Tours based out of the Matewan Depot, near the Buskirk bridge in downtown Matewan.
Keith Gibson started the business two years ago. He purchased the airboat, which is just like you would see in the Everglades, in Cocoa, Florida
During the tour passengers not only get to experience an exhilarating ride down the Tug River, but also are immersed in the beauty of West Virginia’s natural landscapes.
“It is a completely different view from the water than it is from the road,” Gibson said. “You see everything from a whole new perspective.”
The tour is ideal for photographers and nature lovers.
It shows a very diverse ecosystem of trees, birds, small game, aquatic life and more.
You are likely to see a blue heron sailing overhead after he has left his perch on a dead tree. There could be a mud turtle sunning on a log or rock jutting out of the water. Or you might see a duck diving for a fish. You might even get lucky enough to see a big catfish swimming in the shallow water.
“I think we live in the most beautiful part of the world,” Gibson said of the Tug Valley. “People always bring their cameras.”
The ride can take you by some of the historic locations of the famed Hatfield and McCoy Feud.
Not only does the company get out-of-town tourists, but many local people have taken the rides and return for another excursion.
“I need the local people to take advantage of this opportunity to be able to make it,” Gibson said.
He hopes that some will take advantage of the expeditions during events like the Magnolia Fair, Matewan Homecoming and while the fall foliage is at peak colors.
Gibson would like to see some local organizations help with a cleanup of the riverbank areas. Unfortunately there is some litter and trash in some areas that have been tossed out by those who don’t care about the natural landscape.
“We don’t want tourists to go back with a bad impression,” Gibson said.
Gibson realizes that the area needs to diversify its economy and that tourism is one way the area can move forward.
Gibson bought the boat three years ago, but his wife gave birth to premature twin girls, so he waited until they were healthy before he started his business and got it up and running.
The airboat is equipped with headphones to protect the ears. However, they also have built-in microphones so the driver and passengers can communicate while speeding down the Tug Fork. Gibson also pipes in music through the headphones.
The tour can go either north toward Williamson, or south toward the Freeburn, Kentucky, area.
Gibson also is a longtime volunteer fireman with the town of Matewan. Recently he helped local law enforcement locate the body of a man who had wrecked his ATV over the riverbank and had been missing for three days. With his airboat, Gibson was able to spot the body and the four-wheeler from the river.
H & M Airboat Tours offer rides on a regular basis Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tours also can be arranged by appointment on Sunday afternoons (after 1 p.m.) and Mondays. Groups of three or more are encouraged. The boat carries a maximum of six passengers per tour.
Tours range from 20 minutes to 80 minutes in length.
Gibson has lived in the Matewan area nearly his entire life and has a vast knowledge of the area and its rich history. Whether you have questions about feuding, moonshining or coal mining; Keith knows the myths, legends and some of the history of what actually happened.
For reservations and more information, call 304-928-7702 or 235-9090. Also they have a Facebook page and website. You can e-mail Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kyle Lovern is the sports editor of the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at email@example.com or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277, or on Twitter @KyleLovern.