More than 5,000 ATV enthusiasts are expected to visit Gilbert, West Virginia, this October during National Trailfest, now one of the nation's largest all-terrain vehicle festivals.
"It's amazing to watch a town of 500 people grow into a town of 5,500," says Victoria Surber, director of the Gilbert Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Yet, I think a lot of people will agree, Gilbert is no ordinary town."
Once a coal-mining boomtown set in the rugged mountains of southern West Virginia, the community has been transformed over the past 20 years into a center for outdoor fun and adventure.
More than 20 cabins and vacation rentals in and near Gilbert now welcome guests to fish and kayak in its streams, hike, bike, and ride its trails, and boat on its remote mountain lake on the Guyandotte River.
Trailfest is now one of the largest all-terrain celebrations in the eastern U.S., and state and local officials agree the ATV phenomena in southern West Virginia shows no sign of slowing.
Each year more than 55,000 ATVers travel to southern West Virginia to explore what's become one of the largest ATV trail systems in the U.S.—the Hatfield McCoy Trails.
Established 20 years ago, the trail system has witnessed a 10 percent growth in ridership even over the last year, according to Jeff Lusk, executive director of Hatfield McCoy Trails, which now maintains more than 700 miles of trail.
Hatfield McCoy Trails was the initial sponsor for National Trailfest but handed the landmark event over to Gilbert when managing the system and the event became too taxing, Lusk said.
"Gilbert is one of the 11 municipalities within the trail system area and was one of the first to truly embrace ATV tourism—an example to all other communities," he said.
The October 10-14 festival has expanded to include venues that represent outdoor adventure across West Virginia, including a zipline, a mechanical bull, and climbing wall, as West Virginia is also now one of the top rock-climbing destinations in the U.S.
ATVing and off-road travel remain the focus of the event, however, and Surber says organizers are welcoming even more live music, tasty regional food, and thrilling events, including contests, demo rides, and new-machine exhibitions.
Country music singer and songwriter John King will headline the musical line up, which also includes Zero South and Backwoodz Live.
Gilbert officials are reminding ATV riders to exercise caution during the festival and at all times.
"Ride safely and have fun," Surber says. "If you feel like popping a wheelie or going a little wild, do it on the trails and not on the streets."
- Riders will be allowed on the streets in Gilbert until midnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the festival.
- Helmets are required when operating an ATV, and trail permits are required on the trails and streets. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour for trail riders on town streets.
- An adult must accompany any rider under the age of 18, which means an adult must ride an ATV or dirt bike in front of or behind riders younger than 18.
- Riders must have a valid driver's license unless they are younger than 18 and riding with the supervision of an adult.
For more information on Gilbert and the festival, visit the travel bureau website VisitGilbertWV.com or explore the festival on Facebook at National Trailfest.