CLINTWOOD — County supervisors have inked a lease with the Southwest Virginia Recreational Authority for an archery sports complex.
The board took action at its July 22 meeting on about 80 acres known as Dickenson County's old landfill site.
County Administrator David Moore said at the time that Shawn Lindsey, executive director of Spearhead Trails, which is part of SRRA, was already at work on the grant funding application. The land use agreement was one of the items he still needed.
Moore reminded the board that Lindsey had discussed the prospect of developing a larger gun shooting range when he addressed the board in the spring.
Kenady District Supervisor Shelbie Willis asked if archery was the only purpose for the designated site on which they were taking action that night. Willis said she had made that request for that area. The agreement specifies only archery.
Clintwood District Supervisors David Perry said it was his understanding that property for a larger gun shooting range was targeted for Snowball Hollow.
Commissioner of Revenue Mike Yates said the Snowball site and two private sites were under consideration.
When Lindsey and Haysi Mayor Larry Yates addressed the board earlier, Lindsey advised that SRRA had conducted a study into the feasibility of a sports shooting complex and determined there could be several million dollars in economic impact.
There is a total absence of that kind of facility for up to 160 miles, Lindsey said, adding, "We are a prime area for that."
At the time, he said they envisioned one 200- to 300-acre site with the potential for some annexes and would be exploring funding for that.
"Every county is going to want it," Lindsey said.
Yates noted the value that an overall shooting range could bring to law enforcement, for example, who have to qualify for shooting certification.
One of the local advantages, Clintwood District Supervisor David Perry said, would be shooting on land people here already know.
When Sandlick District Supervisor Ron Peters said people had objected to a previous attempt on a different site for a shooting range, Perry offered that a bigger organization like Spearhead "would be better to do this."
Lindsey noted the importance of having a master plan and that the National Rifle Association "pretty much wrote the book on how to do this."
He estimated it would take $1 million to $2 million to develop the first phase of the project.
"You got to protect it once you get it," Peters advised.
The idea for a shooting range overall grew from having things for people to do when they come visit trails in Dickenson County. The idea, he said, is to attract people for extended stays, not just day visits.
"My mission is not to just build trails," Lindsey told the board. "My mission is economic development." He compared it to a pyramid, first making a trail, connecting it to a town and then to the whole community.
Bringing more people into the area and recruiting new businesses is part of the plan, he noted, along with keeping people here longer when they visit. "The more I have, the longer they'll stay," he said.
Lindsey said he is trying to stop the de-population of the region. Getting people here means increased opportunity for them to move here, stay here and to develop property here.
Lindsey also discussed a study on use of abandoned rail lines but noted issues with acquiring access that make those possibilities of a longer-term nature.
A trail that might resemble the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon was one consideration, Lindsey said, as were scenic excursion trails.
In between those two ideas, he said, are rail bikes, which could bring as many jobs and economic impact as excursion trains but without the extensive regulations. He said he has examined two rail lines in Dickenson County, one near Haysi and one from about Red Onion State Prison to Fremont.
The rail bikes venture would be new to the region, he noted, with most of that recreation now concentrated in the northeast and northwest as well as in Europe and Asia.
But with the potential of 40 jobs and $5 million in revenue annually, he said, it's something to think hard about.
Willis District Supervisor Jason Compton asked Lindsey what would be required to build something at Haysi's Ridgeview Trail head like what has been developed at Poplar Gap in Buchanan County. Compton noted that when you come off the mountain at the Haysi trail, there are no bathrooms, no signs, not even directions on how to get to Haysi.
That, Lindsey said, was created through a public-private partnership.
Lindsey said there is a huge problem with signage, adding that he has applied for grant funding that would revamp signage on every trail "just like on a highway." While they are looking to develop signs and kiosks, those also are expensive, he said, and could amount to a quarter million dollars. Plus, Lindsey noted, it takes about a year to go through the environmental process.
He noted that Spearhead had encountered a bit of hiccup in building the non-motorized trail that connects Haysi to Breaks Interstate Park because they had to get a permit before constructing a bridge along the way.
Perry asked why the town of Clintwood doesn't have trails development. A member of the audience asked the same about trails development around Clinchco.
The unique fortune Haysi has, Lindsey said, is the large amount of land connected to Forestland Group, from which Spearhead leases extended amounts of property.
Since that time, Forestland Group has transferred the surface rights of their property to The Nature Conservancy, which has vowed to honor existing leases and work for more recreational development.
Lindsey noted that Spearhead is the secondary user on these private properties.
Mayor Yates also noted the effort that is required for trail development. He said it has taken eight to 10 years of work on Haysi's Ridgeview Trail, adding, "It doesn't happen overnight."
Perry asked if Haysi had seen any increased traffic in town.
Yes, Yates said, noting that the new Thunder River campground stays maxed out and the campgrounds at The Breaks remain packed.