CHARLESTON, WV – Since taking office in 2017, Gov. Jim Justice has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s tourism efforts. These investments have changed West Virginia’s image in major, unprecedented ways, and we are now reaping the rewards of promoting our state to the world for the first time ever.
Today, as a result of these historic investments, Gov. Justice announced that the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System sold nearly 95,000 trail permits in 2021, which represents the highest number of annual permits ever sold in a single year and the system’s 21st consecutive year of growth in ridership. Permit sales saw a 46% lift over 2020 sales and 68% over 2019 sales. The growth the trail system experienced in 2021 alone is more than the first 10 years combined.
This historic ridership increase follows a series of forward-thinking decisions made by Gov. Justice and his administration that have caused tourism and interest in West Virginia to explode to never-before-seen levels.
Prior to Gov. Justice taking office, the state had seen four consecutive years of decline in traveler spending. Upon taking office, Gov. Justice immediately appointed Chelsea Ruby as Tourism Commissioner. The state’s tourism marketing budget was then tripled and the research-based “Almost Heaven” campaign was launched in early 2018. Since then, the state has seen incredible gains across the board. In the three years following the campaign’s launch, annual traveler spending in the state grew by more than $611 million, reversing the historic decline seen in the previous four years.
“I’ve been saying since my first day in office that we have to tell our state’s story. We’re doing just that and it’s working,” Gov. Justice said. “West Virginia is a world-class, four-season travel destination, and thanks to our investments in tourism, we are seeing the benefits firsthand.
“Southern West Virginia especially is reaping the benefits of our investments. During the summer, this part of our state is absolutely full of Hatfield-McCoy riders. They’re buying gas, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and contributing to our economy in a major way. However, we also know that these riders are also doing something more significant: they’re falling in love with West Virginia.
“That’s why I am totally committed to furthering this incredible prosperity in southern West Virginia, and why finishing projects like the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway are two of my top priorities. For centuries, southern West Virginia has been an energy powerhouse, providing our nation with the coal needed for reliable energy. Because of this sacrifice, I wholeheartedly believe that this region deserves all the goodness we can send their way.”
“What Gov. Justice has done for tourism in West Virginia will be remembered for generations to come as a defining moment in our state’s history, when the outside world finally realized that West Virginia truly is ‘Almost Heaven’ and when people within our borders had their sense of pride in their home state reinvigorated,” said Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism Chelsea Ruby.
“West Virginia’s historic growth in tourism isn’t limited to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail,” Secretary Ruby continued. “Last year, whitewater rafting trips were up 26% and skier lift ticket sales were up 37%. 2021 also marked the highest hunting and fishing license sales in more than 20 years. Today, there are more than 200 cabin or RV sites under construction or in design in the southern coalfields as a direct result of this newfound popularity.”
“Thanks to Gov. Justice’s passion for southern West Virginia and the new and returning riders on the trails, we are incredibly optimistic about what’s to come,” said Jeffrey Lusk, Executive Director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority. “Each year, we are just in awe of the trail system’s growing popularity and the way this area continues to expand with it. This popularity is without-a-doubt a direct result of the investments made by the Justice Administration in tourism and by changing the image of West Virginia to the rest of the nation and the world.”
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System welcomed more than 29,500 new riders to the trail system in 2021. More than 80% of total sales were to non-West Virginia residents, with both resident and non-resident ridership growing for the year.