Photo by Sarah Hauser. Photos courtesy of Spearhead Trails.
Looking for a place to ride your ATV? There is no need to look far. A friendly trail less than an hour's drive from the Tri-Cities is designed especially for ATVs, dirt bikes and side-by-sides.
Spearhead Trails' Mountain View trail system, located in Southwest Virginia, is about 40 miles north of Kingsport in St. Paul and offers 70-plus miles of picturesque mountain terrain.
"We would love to invite people up here to ride," said executive director Chuck Riedhammer. "We take all the things that are going on with outlaw riding and provide answers to them. We provide a safe, legal, fun environment and have rangers that are on the trails."
The trail requires helmets, and riders need to buy an annual pass ($50) or daily pass ($15). Any age restrictions depend on the manufacturer's recommendations for the machines.
Most of the ATVs today are side-by-sides with room for two to four people. There are families coming, getting out into nature to places that aren't normally accessible. There, they are enjoying picnics and fresh air along with breathtaking views.
"You're using an ATV to get to places that are stunningly beautiful and that is what our Mountain View system is all about. It's a lot of riding through tree canopies that offers an intimate riding experience, then it opens up to views all the way around," Riedhammer said.
Spearhead Trails is the business name of a state authority that was formed in 2008 as the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority. The first trail in a growing system begins just outside the small town of St. Paul, which is "ATV friendly" and offers plenty of shopping, lodging and dining.
"Once you unload your ATV, you don't need to load it back up," Riedhammer said. "You can take your ATV on town streets into downtown. You can shop at the businesses and get gas, you can go to the grocery store and that is really the core of our success. We don't build trails out in the middle of nowhere, we build them near communities and we always put in a community connector."
That way, people who bring their big trailers don't have to maneuver those monsters through the streets. They can get all the things they need while on their smaller motorized vehicles.
While the trails are meant for people to enjoy the outdoors, the communities that support them are enjoying great economic gains from having them nearby.
"A lot of people see the trails and think it is about just trails, but there is a reason we are doing this. It's for economic development," Riedhammer said. "We always knew it would have a big economic impact, but we have been just blown away by how fast it has happened in St. Paul."
Within the first six months of the trail system opening, there were five new businesses that opened in the town that were created or expanded because of the trails.
"It's unheard of that a town of 1,000 people could have over $500,000 of private investment in the first six months," Riedhammer said. "We can't take all the credit for that because we simply opened the trail, but we knew these entrepreneurs would come."
With the noticeable gains in St. Paul, it is easy to understand why other communities in Virginia are looking to add trails in their backyards. Haysi is currently working on their ATV-friendly legislation.
"These towns are receptive because they understand the large amount of money that is at stake," Riedhammer said. "This is probably going to be one of the most successful economic development initiatives in the entire region. No one has ever seen anything like it."
There are plans to open trails in Pennington Gap and Tazewell this fall and trails in Scott, Buchanan and Dickenson counties within the next year.
"The idea here is very simply to do the same thing in the towns of Grundy, Clintwood, Haysi, Pocahontas, and Pennington Gap that has taken place in St. Paul," Riedhammer said. "To bring the economic development to the region."
Not only is it bringing money to the area, it's bringing fun, legal and safe trails for people to enjoy.
For more information on Spearhead Trails, visit the website at Spearheadtrails.com.