The coalfields region of West Virginia can seem remote compared to the rest of the state, an area that depends on the ups and downs of the coal industry. It is also a region that features natural wonders, with miles and miles of mountains, forests and rivers.
To take advantage of the tourism opportunities of the southwest section of the Mountain State, the Hatfield and McCoy Trail System was established two decades ago, creating more than 700 miles of trails for ATVs, dirt bikes and side-by-sides.
To celebrate this natural attraction, every October the town of Gilbert, West Virginia, hosts the annual National Trailfest event, which brings thousands of people to the area to camp, ride trails and experience the festival and all of its fun activities.
Taking place from Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 10-13, the National Trailfest will feature the annual Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) parade, where ATVs and more are dressed up with various costumes, as well as live music, open trail rides and more. On the competition side of the ledger, National Trailfest will host OHV obstacle course races, drag races, wheelie contests, ATV tug of wars and barrel races.
The center of National Trailfest will be the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert, which will simultaneously host the town’s annual fall festival featuring arts and crafts, food and drink vendors, zip lines, wall climbing, mechanical bull riding and an inflatables zone for youngsters.
For those wanting to get on the trails and ride, National Trailfest will host a dice run and a poker run during the festival. And on each day, OHV manufacturers will be onsite to show off their new models and to offer demo rides.
Live music will be offered at National Trailfest on Friday and Saturday nights, including performances by the Zero South Live Band, the Bakkwoodz Band and Nashville country music artist John King.
Vivian Livingood is the mayor of Gilbert and a lifelong resident. She views the National Trailfest event as a big part of reviving her town and region in a time when the coal industry is in transition.
“Coal mining is what we have always been about here in Mingo County, but it is about to go away for us,” Livingood said. “That is why this little town is going after tourism — so we can keep our lights on and stay open. When they got together and made the plans to create the Hatfield and McCoy Trail System for the nine most impoverished counties in West Virginia, it was a wonderful plan, and I can definitely say it made a difference. Tourists from all over the world love the mountains, and they love the hospitality, and they love the atmosphere of getting to ride their ATVs together.”
About four years ago, the Hatfield and McCoy Trail Authority ran the National Trailfest, but then they turned the event over to the town of Gilbert.
“Although it is extremely hard work when it comes to planning and hosting and acquiring sponsors for Trailfest, we knew how good the event was for our town so we gladly accepted the challenge, and this will be our fourth year of managing the event,” Livingood said. “Before Trailfest, Gilbert was known for being ‘naturally resourceful,’ which was our logo here in town. Gilbert is a place where people live here with pride, as in our citizens have always cared about community and have supported Little League baseball and other athletic programs and keeping the town nice and clean. The people of Gilbert care about each other, and you can tell it in their actions. If you break down on the side of the road, somebody is going to stop and ask, ‘Hey, can I help you?’ Now our motto is ‘Your Home On The Trails.’ ”
The town of Gilbert has less than 500 year-round citizens, yet when the National Trailfest kicks in, upward of 5,000 people fill the city and the nearby trails. That gives the motels, hotels, campgrounds and local businesses of the entire region a much-needed boost.
“We really enjoy hosting the big ATV parade on Saturday night,” said Livingood. “They dress the ATVs up with costumes, and our favorite one was an ATV dressed up like a dragon that actually breathed fire. The parade stretches from one end of the town to the other, and our visitors love it. Usually we bring in about 5,000 people, and that is not including our local guests, so you can look around Trailfest and see a good 8,000 to 9,000 people in this little, tiny town. Every year it has grown into a bigger and better event. Gilbert is a valley town with mountains as far up as you can see on both sides. Guests will come out and sit on the porch and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, do you realize what beauty you have here?’ ”
More information on the event can be found at nationaltrailfest.com or 304-664-3477.