The future is now. It is time for the region to capitalize on all of the exposure it has received from the History Channel’s mini-series on the Hatfield and McCoy Feud, the documentary and all of the national news clips.
There is no reason this region cannot be the next Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg or Sevierville.
What we need is cooperation and teamwork from the city and county governments, the chamber of commerce in each county and the tourism bureaus from both West Virginia and Kentucky.
Williamson, Matewan, Pikeville and Logan need to work together and coordinate festivals and activities to promote the entire region - not just one community. The same goes for the smaller communities in a 60-mile radius: Delbarton, Gilbert, Kermit, Elkhorn City, Warfield, Inez and every little hamlet in between.
For years, our forefathers did not embrace the infamous feud. The same goes for the story of the Matewan Massacre.
These stories have everything. The violence, romance, politics, mystery and yes, even the trial over the alleged stolen hog. All are a part of our ancestry and history. The gunfight in downtown Matewan that is shown in the major motion picture by John Sayles was actually bigger than the gun battle at the O.K. Corral, that the famous western lawman Wyatt Earp was involved in. Tombstone capitalized on that event and character for many years.
The community of Roswell, New Mexico, shied away from the alleged crash of a UFO near that town for many years. Now they have a huge summer festival and the town is a destination for people that are interested in that genre and they attract hundreds of visitors each year.
This past weekend, the Hatfield and McCoy Festival held in Williamson and Matewan brought in hundreds. The marathon race had a record number of runners. More than 570 people entered one of the races. Family members accompanied most of them.
When they come to our region, they stay at our hotels, bed and breakfasts, eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores. They buy crafts, books and other items from the vendors who set up in our towns.
To steal a line from the movie “ Field of Dreams” (which by the way was another Kevin Costner movie), “If you build it, they will come.”
Perhaps in the future we can build an amphitheater in Mingo County and have the local community college or drama club put on a Hatfield and McCoy play. (Similar to the “Honey in the Rock” in Beckley. Of course, that play should have been in this area, but that’s another story.
Or now that Williamson High School has been shut down, perhaps the Rose G. Smith Theater could be used for this type of play. We have talented individuals in this area that would love to participate in this kind of organization. The Chief Logan State Park has put on the Aracoma Story for years and usually has a couple of other musicals or plays each summer.
We need to do the same here in Mingo County. It doesn’t matter whether it’s built in Matewan, Williamson, Kermit or Buskirk. Our local government and civic leaders need to jump on this now!
The bus tours that were available during the festival last Saturday were great. But, we need to have those types of things available every weekend in the warm weather months.
The cabin at the foot of Blackberry Mountain, the cemetery sites for families, the Paw Paw Bush site and other locations, are what people want to see. They want to feel a connection to the history and to these families.
When the tourists visit the area, they need things to do. That’s why the tours, a play and other events will bring in people from all across the United States and even from other countries.
This region could attract thousands of tourists each year, especially in the spring, summer and fall. This would be a huge boost for our local economy. We need to diversify and this is our big chance.
Hopefully more businesses will sprout up from this influx of visitors. Restaurants, antique shops, specialty shops, hotels, bed and breakfasts and many other types of businesses could succeed if we all do our part in promoting tourism.
The Hatfield and McCoy Trial system has already brought in many riders and tourists to the area. We know it can be done. Gilbert has done a fantastic job with their ATV festival in the fall.
Now it is our turn to take advantage of what we were given. Don’t let it slip by without benefiting from this opportunity. This may be our last chance.