The Hatfield-McCoy Trails’ Ivy Branch trail system in Lincoln County, closed since October 2015, could reopen next summer, thanks to a $3.3 million Abandoned Mine Lands pilot grant.
The recently awarded AML grant makes $2.85 million available to the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority to buy three parcels totaling 2,600 contiguous acres in Lincoln County near the Boone County border. The tract includes the land on which the former Ivy Branch trailhead parking lot is located and its visitor center’s footers remain, ample terrain for trails to be built, and riverfront acreage along the Little Coal River.
The Hatfield-McCoy authority was forced to vacate the Ivy Branch property and close its trail system — designed to accommodate full-size off-road vehicles — when the landowner from whom the authority had been leasing the land sold the property to another company. That company chose not to keep the lease arrangement in place, forcing the Ivy Branch trail system, plus the nearby Little Coal River trail system in Boone County, to close.
“At the time that it closed, Ivy Branch was our fastest-growing trail system and the closest for riders from Ohio, our number-one visitor location,” said Jeffrey Lusk, director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails authority. “It’s only 18 miles, or about 20 minutes, from the Southridge shopping center and its lodging, restaurants and entertainment, and 30 minutes from downtown Charleston.”
Under the terms of the AML grant, Lusk’s agency must complete an environmental assessment and then perform mine reclamation work, mainly in the form of sealing old mine entrances and mitigating surface disturbances. About $370,000 of the grant money will pay for the reclamation work, plus the environmental assessment, surveying and legal documents that precede it.
About $100,000 of the AML grant will be spent on trail building, signage and trailhead amenities for the Ivy Branch trail system.
If all goes according to plan, “we should be able to reopen Ivy Branch sometime next summer,” Lusk said.
Reopening the trail system on land owned by the authority should bring relief and security to several lodging and outfitting businesses that have been clinging to life during the more than two years the Ivy Branch system has been closed. Eventually, some of the land included in the purchase could be made available through long-term leases for entrepreneurs to build cabins and other amenities on the site.
The Ivy Branch tract’s access to the Little Coal River makes possible “an excellent multi-use development site for kayak rentals and float trips,” according to an executive summary of the AML pilot grant.
While the reincarnated Ivy Branch trail system will be rejoining the Hatfield-McCoy system, which is opening a new Warrior Trail network near War, in McDowell County, later this year, the Little Coal River system near Boone County’s Water Ways water park will remain closed, according to Lusk.
Long-term coal mining plans by its owner preclude its reopening, he said.