The long-term ramifications of Kanawha County’s pivot to allow ATVs and UTVs on paved highways are unknown. Critics of the reversal remain vocal in their opposition, citing concerns ranging from rider and pedestrian safety to noise pollution.
What has been evident, however, is a surge of off-road vehicle owners going to shops to have their vehicles made street-legal.
“There have definitely been a lot of interest around the shop here just from our customers wanting to know what it takes to do it,” said Ryan Prather, general manager of Hidden Trails Motorsports. “We’ve installed several turn signal kits, several tire kits so people can be in compliance with it. There’s definitely been a lot of people looking into getting their buggy into being street legal.”
“Street legal” and “West Virginia” were married together with regards to ATVs and other off-road vehicles in March when Senate Bill 690 was passed.
That law — written by Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne — expands on legislation passed more than a decade ago that allowed ATVs to drive along certain roads without specific safety precautions.
Specifically, it allows off-road vehicles to use paved roads for up to 20 miles. They must also be registered and plated in a manner similar to that of a motorcycle through the Division of Motor Vehicles.
The law allowed individual counties to determine its own stance regarding ATVs on county roads, something Kanawha County initially prohibited through a 2004 ordinance. But it tweaked its position earlier this month by clarifying that the ordinance doesn’t pertain to street-legal ATVs.
And the definition for what’s to be considered street legal was listed in SB 690. Among the required modifications include:
n Turn signals
n Rear-view mirrors on both sides of the driver
n A horn
n An illuminated speedometer
That’s only a portion of the list, indicating that getting an ATV up to code can be a costly and relatively time-consuming endeavor.
For example: Matt Smalley, the manger of Gravely Polaris in Dunbar, said he orders four or five turn signal kits and upwards of 10 sets of mirrors a week. The time to make the modifications is dependent upon the job and varies from business to business. But typically it can take up to five hours just to have a turn-signal kit installed, that being the most time-consuming procedure, according to Prather.
But area shop owners are experiencing more than the need to maintain expanded inventory and a bloated service schedule. They point to a surge of foot traffic from first-time consumers who might become regulars.
“For sure it’s good — for sure,” Smalley said. “We’re making money and we’re bringing in customers we’ve never seen in before.”
The new stance could also mean more dollars distributed throughout Kanawha County.
By opening up area roads, the Kanawha Valley also opens itself up to an expanded role within the state’s trail systems. Specifically the Hatfield-McCoy Trail project, a 700-mile network of trails and amenities that slices through 14 southern West Virginia counties.
That system has an economic impact of more than $38 million annually, according to the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreational Authority, as well as creating scores of jobs throughout the region. And last year it sold more than 56,000 annual permits for the trails — 84% of which were purchased by non-West Virginia citizens. A 62-day shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered sales in April, but they have since rebounded to eclipse totals when compared to the same time in 2019.
“We look forward to working with the Kanawha County Commission to develop ATV tourism and a new Hatfield McCoy Trail System in the Upper Kanawha Valley,” said Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority. “The Commission has been very supportive of our efforts to diversify the economy of the Upper Kanawha Valley by adding an ATV trail system to this area.”