Over 1,000 kids annually complete a trail safety program sponsored by Spearhead Trails, and the project promotes trail-related outdoor recreation by opening private lands and linking trail systems to communities.
Southwest Regional Recreation Authority was established in 2008 by the Commonwealth of Virginia and began trail building in 2013. It was not until receiving the Recreational Trails Program grant that Spearhead Trails were able to both build and maintain trails, facilitating the construction and maintenance of over 400 miles of ATV/Multiuse Trails in the seven Coalfield Counties of Southwest Virginia.
Communication is at the heart of the Spearhead trail building philosophy: "We connect communities together by trails so that economic development can most easily occur within the footprint of the municipalities. Then we market the trails and help businesses become established on our trails."
Another aspect of the educational benefits of the trail system is helping more people enjoy the outdoors. Surveys find that the average trail user is often well above 50 years old and many are disabled, but have discovered that they can still access the wilderness by a side by side all-terrain vehicle. Many used them for hunting or farming and now for enjoying the wilderness areas.
Spearhead also prides itself on being family friendly and offers kids a discounted yearly pass which becomes even more discounted when the child completes a safety program. This year alone over 1,000 kids will complete a safety program through Spearhead Trails using materials from the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
Finally, the trails that Spearhead builds allow for motorized access to routes that are environmentally friendly instead of illegal trails on private property. the Spearhead trails are designed for sediment and erosion control and environmental protection practices. They also require visitors to get in the habit of using safety practices such as wearing helmets and proper use of equipment.
The success of the trails has also depended on communicating their economic benefits to rural communities. Spearhead Trails has contributed over $20 million in the first four years of opening a trail. In the current year they are expected to have an economic impact of over $15 million while supporting at least 168 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs.
This number is expected to exceed $20 million a year in future years and support over 250 FTE jobs. The economic impact numbers reflect that most users are coming from outside the areas, spending over $262 per day, staying on average 3.6 days and coming in groups of three or more persons.
Spearhead also learned that close to 25% of the groups have non-ATV riders with them who support other economic interests in the area such as shopping museums and other trails.
Surveys find that 89 percent of visitors stated that they would visit more often if there were more connected trail miles. Also, 85 percent of visitors stated that they would visit more often if there were more connected amenities (e.g. restaurants and hotels) around the trails.
The marketing for the trail includes attending countless trade shows, events, and distributing over 100,000 brochures per year. Trail users from all over the United States and Canada are coming each year to ride the trails.
Spearhead Trails is also a story of restoration. The trails are not on large public lands and, in fact, over 90% of the trails are on former coal, gas, and timber extraction properties that have been restored to forested areas. These companies work with Spearhead Trails to access these vast wilderness properties with well over 15,000 acres currently released for Spearheads trail development.
This partnership is possible because they know Spearhead Trails and the communities will clean up illegal dumping, and protect the forest as well as gas wells. Each trail system area has reported a decrease in vandalism and illegal use once Spearhead opened new trails. This alliance has created a gateway to outdoor recreation that for many would not have been possible in this region without this collaboration.
See trail descriptions at Spearhead Trails website: https://spearheadtrails.com
2021: Sign Language Saturday