ATV trail resort goes out on a limb with lodging option

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TOM HINDMAN | Gazette-Mail photos Cabins with ground floor bunk beds and upstairs sleeping lofts are among lodging possibilities at Bluewell’s Buffalo Trail Cabins, Cottages and Campgrounds.

Fire rings, picnic tables, satellite television and wi-fi are available at all Buffalo Trail cabins and cottages.

Fire rings, picnic tables, satellite television and wi-fi are available at all Buffalo Trail cabins and cottages.

BLUEWELL, W.Va. — When Tyler Smith, Nathanael Tankersley and Zach Serdar get ready to ride a section of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, you can be sure they’re out of their tree.

The three northern Illinois men, visiting Mercer County to ride the Southern West Virginia trail system for a week, are spending their time off their ATVs in one of 11 tree houses available to guests at the Buffalo Trail Cabins, Cottages and Campground.

“For us, it’s luxury camping,” said Smith. “It keeps us off the ground and under a roof — and gives us a nice view.”

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Four Oaks Tree House, attached by sway bolts to the four trees that give it its name, is one of 11 tree houses avaiable to guests at Bufalo Trail Cabins, Cottages and Campgrounds in Bluewell.

On the their elevated deck, an array of coolers, camp stoves and battery powered lights are used to compensate for their tree house’s spartan accommodations, which include two bunk beds and mattresses, a 12-foot-by-12-foot deck, fire rings and picnic tables, but not plumbing or electricity — although a water standpipe and bathhouse are nearby, along with free ice and firewood.

Back in April, during their first trip to the Hatfield-McCoy system, the three friends, all from the Gurnee, Illinois area, were the first customers to book a stay in one of Buffalo Trail’s newly completed tree house units.

“It was too cold, then,” Smith said. “There was snow on the ground. They upgraded us to something a lot warmer, and we really appreciated that.”
“But the weather’s perfect, now,” said Tankersley, “and this makes a great little home away from home. It’s good to be able to ride all day and come back to the same place.”

Completed this spring, the 11 rental tree houses are the latest addition to Buffalo Trail’s lodging lineup. In only its second year of operation, Buffalo Trail is already one of the biggest resorts serving Hatfield-McCoy riders, with cabin, cottage and lodge accommodations for 120, plus the tree houses, seven pull-in, all-utility RV spaces, a full-service bar and restaurant and a microbrewery expected to begin production by next spring.

Zach Servar sits on his four wheeler and his friends Tyler Smith Nathanael Tankersley take a break for lunch at their tree house before heading out on the trails.

Zach Servar sits on his four wheeler and his friends Tyler Smith Nathanael Tankersley take a break for lunch at their tree house before heading out on the trails.

Guests can drive their ATVs and trail bikes to a nearby access point for the Hatfield-McCoy’s Pocahontas trail system, which directly links to two other H-M trail systems, Pinnacle Creek and Indian Ridge, making 300 miles of trail available — the most ATV trail mileage from a single site east of the Mississippi.

“You can ride all week and not have to ride the same trail twice,” said Smith. “We love it here. We’ve ridden around home and in the Badlands in Indiana and down in Tennessee, but this place is the best.”

Most of the Buffalo Trail resort is built atop the site of the former Bluewell Manor Apartment complex, which abutted the family farm of resort owner and developer Seth Peters.

Peters, who returned to West Virginia seven years ago from North Carolina, where he still has a hand in a business that renovates chain restaurants, initially bought the land to control any additional development next to the home place, and later decided to build a nursery on the site. But after seeing the growth of ATV tourism that accompanied the growth of the Hatfield-McCoy system, his plans went in a different direction.

With accommodations for more than 120 people, Buffalo Trail Cabins, cottages and Campgrounds is one of the largest, as well as newest, resorts to take shape along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system.

With accommodations for more than 120 people, Buffalo Trail Cabins, cottages and Campgrounds is one of the largest, as well as newest, resorts to take shape along the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system.

“I built a cabin or two a year, but didn’t open them until last year, after I completed the tenth building,” Peters said.

In addition to nine all-amenity cabins, each with a different floor plan and all equipped with Wi-Fi, flat-screen satellite television in every bedroom and living room, outdoor fire rings and grills, Peters built a restaurant nestled against a koi pond with indoor and outdoor seating for 130, which also contains a full service bar with 11 draft beers on tap. Last winter, he added the tree houses, and plans to build an equal number more in coming years.

Some of Buffalo Trail’s cabins can be divided in half for smaller groups. Some cabins have up to nine beds and two bathrooms, while the smaller cottages contain a single bedroom and two beds.

Buffalo Trail’s Hillbilly Hotel can be rented as a single four bedroom, four bathroom unit, or divided into one bedroom, one bathroom units. Completed two months ago, Carl’s Bunkhouse, a studio-style lodge with a full kitchen, sleeps 10. Buffalo Lodge, which accommodates up to 20 guests, is a former residence that has as been converted into a five-bedroom, three-bathroom inn with a full kitchen and hot tub.

The outdoor dining area at Buffalo Trail, perched next to a koi pond and waterfall, seats 65. A similar number of diners can be seated indoors.

The outdoor dining area at Buffalo Trail, perched next to a koi pond and waterfall, seats 65. A similar number of diners can be seated indoors.

Buffalo Trail’s restaurant, featuring sports bar fare like grilled steak, salmon, chicken, and buffalo burgers from the Peters Farm’s herd of 22 bison, is open Thursday through Sunday.

“We’re always operating at capacity on Friday and Saturday nights,” Peters said.

Peters said Buffalo Trail’s target customer group can be found in the top 30 or 40 percent of the income demographic.

“We’re not targeting people who are interested in pitching a tent and riding all day, although there’s nothing wrong with that.

We like to see groups of couples coming in who want to stay in the same cabin or adjoining cabins and have a nice dinner without having to leave the site. This is one of the very few places along the trail where a wife can comfortably stay while the husband goes out riding.”

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Buffalo Trail’s assortment of cabins, cottages and lodges all come equipped with satellite televison, wi-fi, picnic tables and fire rings.

With five acres developed so far and another adjoining 20 available for expansion, while ridership on the trail system continues to grow, “I think we’ll be adding something new every year,” Peters said. “This area could become another Gatlinburg, if we could diversify beyond ATV trails and develop extras like waterparks.”

“They’ve really put up a first-class facility,” Jeff Lusk, president of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Trail Authority, said of the Buffalo Trail resort. “It’s the most upscale place with on-site dining along the trail, and it’s one of the largest developments we have.”

With Hatfield-McCoy Trail permit sales up 5 percent last year and already up another 4.8 percent this year, “We still need a few more beds,” Lusk said. Five additional trail systems are in the planning stage, with tentative trailhead sites at Oceana in Wyoming County, War in McDowell, the East Lynn Lake area in Wayne, the Marmet-Chelyan area in Kanawha, and the Madison-Danville area in Boone County. The additions would make 1,200 miles of riding available on the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

“So far, entrepreneurs have invested in more than 40 projects along the trail, which is becoming the economic engine everyone hoped it would be,” Lusk said. “I wish the investments would come a little faster. It’s a challenge to open a new trail system in a rural area with no lodging or other infrastructure.”