Virginia’s New Stone Mountain Trail Adds To OHV Success Stories On Coal Mining Lands

November 2015 Powersport News Dave Halsey, NOHVCC contributing writer

On Oct. 10, hundreds of riders showed up with their off-highway vehicles (OHVs) for the ribbon-cutting of the new Stone Mountain trail system near Pennington Gap, VA. A small sign, attached to the front bumper of some of the OHVs, summed up the single-most important partnership that made the trail system possible: “Friends of Coal.”

“Three of our trail systems are extensively on old coal mines,” said Chris Sturgill, Field Operations Supervisor. “Some are contour mines and some are mountain-top removal mines. We’re so appreciative to have these large landowner partners, because without them it would be impossible to have the quality systems that we have.”

Stone Mountain offers 30 miles of challenging, intermediate to advanced level OHV trails, with nine overlooks of stunning vistas. It’s the fourth OHV trail system built by Spearhead Trails, as part of Virginia’s Southwest Regional Recreational Authority. SRRA was created in 2008 by the Virginia General Assembly, to provide new recreational opportunities, boost tourism and visitor spending, and generate new revenue for the region, while protecting natural resources.

Modeled after Hatfield-McCoy Trails in neighboring West Virginia, Spearhead Trails opened its first trail system in 2013. Called Mountain View, it was built on a series of contour surface mines, transformed into 80 miles of scenic multi-use routes primarily designed for ATVs and ROVs (side-by-sides). Stone Mountain brings Spearhead Trails’ total trail miles to 200.

Reclaimed Coal Mines Offer Win-Win Partnerships 

By partnering with large coal mining companies, agencies like Spearhead Trails and Hatfield-McCoy Trails are able to have land use agreements for thousands of acres. Working together, they solve a lot of problems for the land companies, while creating new riding opportunities for the public.

“There were a lot of illegal outlaw trails out there,” said Sturgill, formerly an engineer and ASI Safety Instructor for the U.S. Forest Service. “We come in and develop the trails, using Forest Service standards. We also correct environmental issues, with proper drainage and sediment controls. We are able to maintain the land and actually upgrade the quality of the land.

“On old contour mining land, you’re reshaping that surface bench to serve as a trail, but also serve as environmental controls. When we design the trails, we put the trails to the outside of that contour. That keeps us away from water and things that the mines liberate. It keeps the water out of the streams. And the cost of building the trail system is low. You don’t have such an extensive amount of excavation work, like you do building a brand new trail.”

Another benefit is improved habitat for wildlife. Spearhead’s 40-mile Coal Canyon trail system is built on a mountain-top surface mine, on land that resembles open plains. The OHV trail actually enhanced efforts to introduce an elk herd to the area. “We had elk released in an area adjacent to our trails,” said Sturgill. “Because of the reclamation that we’ve done, we’re now seeing those elk moving into our trail system to feed on the vegetation that we sow. The landowners like that.

“When I go in and do a reclamation, or do any earthwork whatsoever, we reclaim with a wildlife mix that benefits deer, bear, turkey, you name it. We’ve actually seen an increase in wildlife on our trails because of those mixes.” 

Spearhead Trails gives riders a wide variety of difficulty levels, with scenic overlooks and the ability to experience some of the area’s mining history, including seeing mining equipment along the trails that was abandoned in the ‘40s and ‘50s. All four Spearhead Trail systems are patrolled by hired trail rangers. They serve as ambassadors, making sure the trails are family friendly, offering assistance to riders and enforcing the system’s rules and regulations.

Since opening two years ago just outside the town of St. Paul, VA, the Mountain View trail has brought in 13 new businesses and more than $2 million in private investment, reports Sturgill. Additional resorts and lodging totaling over $1 million in investments are being planned near other trail systems. 

The Latest Of Many Trails On Coal Lands ... And More To Come 

A few hours drive from Spearhead Trails into West Virginia, is the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. It has land agreements with large coal and timber companies and many private landowners. Opened in 2000 with three trail systems, it now has eight trail systems totaling more than 700 miles of OHV trails.

According to a 2014 economic impact study, the operational impact of Hatfield-McCoy Trails alone equals $3.3 million. “Even more notably,” states the report,” the Hatfield-McCoy Trails bring non-local visitors to the area whose spending is estimated to generate an additional $19 million in economic activity in West Virginia. Together, the total estimated economic impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails is more than $22 million.”

Two states to the west, in Indiana, the Redbird State Recreation Area is 1,450 acres and includes 25 miles of OHV trails. The Interlake State Recreation Area is 3,500 acres with more than 100 miles of OHV trails. Both systems are built on former surface and underground coal mining lands. In the early 1950s, when the coal mines closed, reclamation efforts consisted of planting pine trees, leaving behind acid lakes and extreme hills. User trails and unregulated activity flourished in the ‘70s. Decades of land acquisitions, the formation of management groups, and trail building followed. Today, both areas are popular with OHV riders. They are owned by the State and operated by the Indiana Department Of Natural Resources.

In rural Pennsylvania, the Northumberland County Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) is a 6,500 acre motorized and non-motorized recreation facility. Opened in 2014, its welcome center and parking lot are located in Coal Township. Anthracite is a high-grade coal and a big part of Pennsylvania’s mining history. For many years, the area suffered from illegal solid waste disposal. AOAA has done extensive work to make environmental improvements to the area, including installing gates to deter illegal dumping. Numerous cleanups have been conducted, making vast improvements in the property.

Western Maryland is also coal country. The Maryland OHV Alliance (MDOHVA) is working to create an OHV trail system in Allegheny and Garrett Counties. “We have initial support from the coal mines, they have embraced the idea,” said Ken Kyler, Alliance Secretary/Treasurer, and a NOHVCC Associate State Partner. “The businesses support it. The major issue is the management structure. We don’t have a state authority like Hatfield-McCoy. So we’re hoping the state embraces it, or we can get a change in state law.”

Ongoing Partnerships Are The Key To Future Trails

Reluctant at first to have designated trails on their land, coal companies in Virginia today are working closely with Spearhead Trails to partner on more OHV trails. Spearhead Trails plans to add an additional 300 trail miles in the future. “The land companies we deal with are very good community partners,” said Sturgill. “They have become an invaluable part of our organization. We work diligently to build those relationships to get more and more areas to expand our program.” 

As for the new Stone Mountain trail, Sturgill reports that local businesses are especially excited about it, following the high level of interest at the grand opening. “The feedback we’re getting is unbelievable,” he said. “The town that it’s in reported they had the busiest weekend ever during the grand opening. The town officials are blown away and scrambling because of how busy it was.

“And the views from the system, well, they rival anything I’ve seen and I’ve ridden all over the East Coast.”

For more information on Spearhead Trails, visit its Facebook page or see its website at: To learn more about Hatfield-McCoy Trails, go to: Information on Redbird and Interlake Rec Areas in Indiana can be found at:

Here is a link to the 2014 Hatfield-McCoy economic impact study:

  • “Friends of Coal” referenced at the beginning of this article is an organization that supports Virginia’s coal mining families and those whose livelihoods depend on the industry.
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