Chris Zeto’s everyday duties range from community outreach and marketing assistance to explaining the history of the pepperoni roll.
An extension agent for West Virginia State University, he works as a community and economic development agent in Logan County, a partnership between service and the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, covering 10 trail systems in seven different counties.
He has a clientele of about 130 non-traditional entrepreneurs that own lodging facilities, cabins, and houses.
“My focus is on website management, advertising, and producing printed materials, such as trail maps and brochures,” he said.
“I serve as the bridge between the resource and the individual.”
A major challenge for the often-neglected southwestern part of West Virginia, Zeto says, is that business owners don’t always understand the importance of communication, marketing, and advertising.
“I explain to people that you can have the greatest product available, but if people don’t know about it, then consumers won’t be able to experience it,” he said.
Zeto believes that promoting tourism in the area can help resolve these issues.
“We’ve had people come from 14 different countries, as well as from all across America to explore the trails,” he said.
“They drive their vehicles through our ATV-friendly towns, so it’s important that we provide them with attractions, such as restaurants and lodging, or they’re going to go somewhere else.”
One resident who owns neighboring property along one part of the trail has set up a hot dog stand, complete with karaoke on weekends, for riders to stop and enjoy something to eat during their visit.
Another rents a cabin to tourists and often makes homemade chocolate chip cookies, biscuits, and apple butter for her guests, while yet another offers tree houses that people can sleep in.
Zeto and his colleagues are also in the process of incorporating historical signage on the trails and points of interest on maps.
“There’s a small waterfall on one of the paths that has become a very popular destination,” he said.
“Many people like to visit the Hatfield Cemetery as well. It sits atop a steep hill with no room for parking, so we are working to make that area more accessible for hikers and vehicles. West Virginia is also credited with the creation of the pepperoni roll, which is the state food. People are very interested in that history.”
Zeto’s goal is to have ten historical signs erected at each of the ten trail systems by spring 2022.
“Every piece of the puzzle is so important,” said Zeto.
“We aren’t just selling the trail system—we’re selling an experience. We want people to ride on the trails, but we also want them to visit the state park and go kayaking, stay in a unique cabin, enjoy a pepperoni roll and drink a good craft beer.
"West Virginia often gets a bad reputation, but I can’t tell you how many tourists have left saying, ‘Wow, that was a great, relaxing time!’ We do everything we can to help people have that kind of experience. It’s my passion, and I feel happy to be a part of it."