The West Virginia Senate has signed off on a bill that would prohibit the Parks and Recreation Section of the Division of Natural Resources from establishing all-terrain, off-road or utility-task vehicle trail systems within state parks and state forests.
The Senate on Saturday afternoon approved Senate Bill 468, which carves out Cabwaylingo State Forest from that ban, making a trail system there permanent.
Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Committee from which SB 468 originated, said he would vote for SB 468 to make the trail system at Cabwaylingo permanent, but criticized the ban on future establishment of all-terrain and other vehicle trail systems within state parks and forests.
Maynard said he didn’t want to tie the DNR’s hands regarding potential future trail development opportunities like Cabwaylingo in his home county.
“[I]t’s just been a wonderful thing,” Maynard said of the trail system there.
Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, reported getting more emails about SB 468 than any other bill.
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, cast the lone vote against SB 468 in a 32-1 vote Saturday.
The House-added ban outside Cabwaylingo came courtesy of an amendment from Delegate Ty Nestor, R-Randolph, who expressed concern in a floor speech that irresponsible all-terrain or recreational vehicle operators could decrease visitor interest in state parks.
SB 468 still would allow development and use of connector trails from existing private trail systems to give ATV, UTV and off-road vehicle users access to state park and forest recreational facilities.
The state began allowing ATVs and off-road highway vehicles to drive on roads and trails in the Cabwaylingo State Forest, in Wayne County, in 2019 as part of a pilot project. DNR Director Brett McMillion told the Outdoor Recreation Committee earlier this session that the Cabwaylingo project had proven to be “very beneficial.”
SB 468 names the Hatfield-McCoy trails as a potential system the DNR could develop and use to provide access to state park and state forest recreational facilities for ATV, UTV and off-road vehicle users.
Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, complained to an interim legislative committee in November that recreation-driven economic growth is unavailable to many towns and cities near, but not connected to, the trail system.
The Hatfield-McCoy trail system spans 1,000 miles and connects to 17 towns and cities.
The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority is a quasi-governmental agency created by the Legislature in 1996 to build and maintain recreational trails in Southern West Virginia.
Lusk touted the “luxury” that ATV and UTV trail riders have of riding out of bed and breakfasts through towns onto the trail system.
The Senate Outdoor Recreation Committee advanced a scaled-back version of SB 468 last month that later was approved by the Senate after considering a more expansive committee substitute that sparked opposition from environmental advocates.
That version of the bill would have allowed the DNR to establish trail systems for ATV, UTV and off-road vehicles within state forests.
McMillion told the Outdoor Recreation Committee last month that SB 468 would allow the DNR and its parent agency, the Department of Commerce, to determine whether any further development of Hatfield-McCoy or other trail systems close to state parks or forests merit connections between the parks and forests and those systems.
McMillion said Twin Falls Resort State Park, in Wyoming County, and Chief Logan State Park, in Logan County, are two sites where the state would like to increase the potential for revenue for “a little more self-sufficient number.”
Twin Falls and Chief Logan have trailheads in the vicinity that would open them up to ATV and UTV motorists to stay at a lodge or overnight facility.
“[They would have] access to park at that lodge and load their vehicle and have access to that particular trailhead so they don’t have to load up and go again,” McMillion said.
Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.