WHITESVILLE - During their regular session on Aug. 22, the Whitesville Town Council discussed what they saw as conflicting communications regarding the potential for a trail head in their town connecting to the Hatfield McCoy Trail System.
In 2018, 50,031 permits were sold to ATV riders using the trail system, up 10.2 percent from the previous year with 2019 sales to be tabulated in November.
A proposed trail head at Indian Creek near Racine is moving quickly toward a groundbreaking, according to Boone County officials.
Boone County Commissioner Craig Bratcher was in attendance and spoke to the council about the situation. Bratcher said that via social media, he had been accused of diverting the trail head to Racine and away from Whitesville, where a meeting was held in the spring regarding the possibilities. Executive director of the trail Jeffrey Lusk was in attendance.
"I directly asked (Lusk) about Whitesville and basically he told me that the way these contracts are settled and done that it is basically who signs contracts including the land owners and home owners," Bratcher said. "Who signs contracts first are the ones they move on first. They have 34 projects going and 24 are held up due to land companies and home owners."
Bratcher said that according to Lusk, Whitesville is landlocked with land companies making their situation more difficult, adding that Cole & Crane wouldn't return a phone call.
"He said they are unwilling to return a phone call," said Bratcher.
Whitesville Mayor Freddie Harless responded, "That is the complete opposite of what he (Lusk) told us."
Bratcher stated, "If Cole & Crane let them on the property that another company called Heartland Forest Land Group would have to give permission for mapping," he said. "Then you have hunting clubs that have property leased out. They have a right to say no. He said that right now it is a major roadblock."
Bratcher went on to say at the meeting, "I did not have anything to do with them putting it in Peytona or Racine to start with. You can call me a liar when I walk out of here and I don't care. I had nothing to do with that."
Councilman Matt Lively responded to Bratcher with printed email communication he received from Kris Mitchell, the director of the Boone County Community & Economic Development Corporation.
"This will provide a better understanding of why we are so upset," Lively added. "We had a meeting with the folks from Hatfield and McCoy and not one representative from the county came here. Our second meeting Mitchell came as well as the hunting clubs. When we left that meeting, she was going to make this happen and was the point of contact. When we all left, the hunting clubs were going to let them do mapping and discuss it from there."
Lively sent an email to Mitchell on March 28 inquiring about the Whitesville project.
Mitchell responded a day later with an email that stated, "It took some time to obtain a mapping agreement from Cole & Crane, a land company which owns the entry property. This was recently signed. On a more positive note, we are working on another land company on smaller trail near Racine that will be tied in when it is complete."
In that email, Mitchell named the person who was to start the mapping process.
On May 3, Lively reached out to Mitchell again to check the status of the trail project.
Mitchell responded, "I've been meeting with the property owner at Indian Creek that hopes to start the trail there. We cannot go onto the Williams Mountain Property (Whitesville Project) until we have a signed mapping agreement from Cole & Crane, another land owner. They have given us a verbal agreement but have not yet to sign anything, despite multiple visits, phone calls and emails."
After being made aware of the email communication, Bratcher stated, "So she (Mitchell) retracted back from what she said about it being signed and now she's saying it ain't signed. I can see why everybody is upset."
Mitchell responded to the email communications brought forth at the meeting from her office via telephone on Monday morning.
"I was wrong," she said. "What I was told is that Hatfield and McCoy had been in constant contact with Cole & Crane. Everybody has reached out to Cole & Crane and they had a verbal agreement and they said that if they were sent the mapping agreement, they would sign it. Wonderful, we sent the agreement and we didn't get it back. I know it has been sent to them twice. I was completely wrong in saying that and I made an assumption and they had signed other mapping agreements."
Mitchell added, "That was completely my mistake, I should not have said that."
A message was left for Jeffrey Lusk at his office but the call was not returned by press time. An attempt to reach a representative from Cole & Crane was unsuccessful.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-307-2403.