Mingo, Pike readying for Hatfield-McCoy festival

The Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce is filled with visitors on Monday, as director Natalie Young, right, looks on. Officials said the chamber has been inundated with tourists since the movie, “Hatfields and McCoys,” aired on History Channel last week. Young said everyone involved is expecting the interest and enthusiasm to spill over to this weekend’s Hatfield/McCoy Festival.

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — No matter which side of the Hatfield/McCoy Feud that people take either now or at any time since the infamous family squabble ended more than a century ago, the one thing that even disputing family members themselves can agree on is that the historical event has always had the potential to equate into an economic boon for this region of the country.

While some positive advances have been made in that direction since 1999, when a handful of local promoters and instigators got together and decided to make the feud more tangible for tourists by developing feud sites throughout the area to coincide with an annual festival, to date the tourism boon everyone anticipated and was hoping for simply hasn't manifested itself.

But all that could be changing for the better in 2012, thanks to a

made-for-television film on the feud that aired nationwide last week. The film, "Hatfields and McCoys," which aired over three consecutive nights on History Channel, broke viewing records for cable-produced movies.

And that unprecedented viewership and subsequent enthusiasm over the long ago event alone, says Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Young, are currently spilling over into what some are predicting to be an avalanche of tourists to this weekend's festival.

Area hotels are already booked, a record number of runners have

already signed up for the annual marathon and the historic Coal House in

Williamson is currently being overrun by tourists from both near and far.

"The phone has not stopped ringing since the movie aired," Young said. "People from just about every corner of the country have been calling. They're trying to get lodging accommodations, get bookings for the bus tours, wanting information about the feud. You pretty much name it and we're getting the calls for it.

"It's basically been nonstop since the movie aired last week. If all this

tremendous interest is any indication, I don't think there's any doubt this

year's event by far will be the largest and most successful we've ever had."

No one knows and understands this reality more than Charley McCoy, the newly-elected president of the TVCC. McCoy, whose primary occupation is being the chief credit officer of the First National Bank in Williamson, and who began his new TVCC responsibilities this week, said to simply say he was a little overwhelmed at the response over the movie and the positive overflow would be a major understatement.

"To be honest, I just got back from a training session at LSU (Louisiana State University) Graduate School of Banking," he said. "So you could say I've hit the ground running. Right now it's all a bit overwhelming. But as a longtime member of the Chamber, for some time now I have been involved with strategic planning on how we are going to develop events like this and where exactly we're going to be in three to five years.

"Naturally, we want to be the centerpiece of information for tourism in the Tug Valley area. This movie was a gift laid in our lap, so we certainly didn't want to miss out on the momentum it generated for us. This is our time, and we most definitely want to take advantage of it."

Bill Richardson, an associate professor with West Virginia University's

extension service and whose office is based in Williamson, is one of the few

individuals who foresaw the promise of promoting the feud 13 years ago.

Richardson said although providing lip service about the feud and attempting to get vast amounts of tourists coming to the Tug Valley based just on the feud's history were noble ideas, without giving people a chance to see and experience the sites first-hand, there was just no realistic way of promoting the event into a really successful venture.

But because enterprising individuals like himself on both sides of the Tug River worked long and hard to redevelop some of the more notable feud sites — such as the famous "hog trial" site at McCarr and the "Paw Paw" execution site on the outskirts of Buskirk — what had previously only created nominal tourism success is, in large part due to the movie, now rapidly becoming a potential tourism gold mine.  

All of the weekend's guided bus tours to the feud sites, he said, are already booked.

"I think because of all the interest the movie has generated, this annual event has now vividly exceeded all my expectations, and my expectations were always very high," he said. "To give you an example of what I'm talking about, last week our Hatfield/McCoy Country website got over 100,000 hits on Wednesday alone.

"The next day it got so many hits the site crashed, although we did get it up and running soon after that. The feud has always been famous, but this movie has turned it into a monster. The response and interest it's generated has just been phenomenal."

Richardson said the movie's impact has not escaped the news media, either.  News outlets, both statewide and nationally, have either already interviewed him and run extensive pieces in print, radio, and television, or currently are on the waiting list to get the opportunity.

He said the movie has generated phone calls and eventual interviews from ABC Nightly News, NBC Nightly News, and CBS Sunday Morning, with NBC's Today Show also showing a great deal of interest.  

In addition, National Public Radio (NPR) has also conducted interviews.

"I don't think there's any doubt the reason we're now able to take advantage of all this interest the movie has generated is because a few of us have been working very hard over the past 13 years in preparation for it," he said. "When I started about all we had was a story. But we knew that wasn't enough for tourists.

"They've got to have something to see.something to interact with.  I think

because a few dedicate people — both in Pike County and Mingo County — had the foresight to begin working on this way back when is the reason we now find ourselves in the position we're fortunate enough to be in."

And that position, he added, is one that neither the tourist inundated towns of Branson, Missouri, nor Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — neither having particularly rich historic backgrounds — even skirted closely to prior to the phenomenal success both enjoy today.

"There's simply no reason we can't be like those towns," he said. "My sincerest hope is all this interest the movie generated will be the catalyst that ignites an explosion of tourism for us here."

Young also believes the potential for tourism in both Mingo and Pike counties is currently at its peak. But, she added, that doesn't necessarily mean a movie has sealed the deal and, consequently, represents the emblematic icing on the emblematic cake.

"There's no question we're in the position right now to turn our area into a tourism Mecca," she said. "But for it to be what we all want, we've all got to work together.

"All the surrounding chambers of commerce and government bodies in both Pike and Mingo Counties have got to work together as a whole.  If that happens, and I really believe it will, I don't think there's any doubt about the eventual outcome."

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