The Ridge Runners are an ATV club, the Mountain Crawlers a 4x4 club. With a combined membership of over 250, both share a common interest: promoting Harlan County to be the "off-road capital" of the East Coast.
This June, the groups plan to open and promote the off-road park in the Clover Fork area, dubbed Baileys Creek, for public recreational use. Although the groups often bring outdoor enthusiasts to the park already, their vision is a much grander.
The proposed park system will include signs, picnic areas, restrooms, shelter houses and a possible helicopter landing area. The trails would all be named, given a difficulty level and precisely mapped by a Global Positioning System (GPS) the county already owns, something that would also be beneficial to the 911 emergency system.
"I believe this is a great thing you guys are doing," said Roger Fannin, incoming president of the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce. He was impressed by the attention the county has received because of the groups.
"This is probably the biggest thing in Harlan County since the railroad came in," Fannin said later. "We've been searching for over 60 years for something to enhance our economy... the answer was here all along, it was just a matter of putting everything together."
"It's amazing that a bunch of mountain boys could form two clubs that could do more for tourism than all of the tourism boards," said Ken Crider, president of the Kentucky Mountain Crawlers.
Fannin presented promotion ideas to the clubs, including a publication, tentatively dubbed "Harlan County Off-Road," containing maps, photos, advertisements and coupons which could be placed in stores and visitors center in the region. The publication could potentially promote the off-road park as well as bring customers to Harlan businesses.
To make it all happen, the two groups are asking the Harlan County Fiscal Court to create a board that will oversee the park. The proposed board will have at least five members, comprised of members of the Mountain Crawlers, Ridge Runners and other designated officials. The members of the board would be appointed by Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop.
The board would be responsible for overseeing and maintaining the trail system, as well as promoting it as a tourist attraction. But possibly the more important issue, the board would protect the two clubs, landowners and the county from liability.
Members of the groups and Grieshop are researching KRS 411.190, designed to protect landowners who allow their property to be used for public recreational use. Other recreational parks in the state, including skateboard parks in Louisville and Lexington, are operating under the law, which protects the owners from accidental injury lawsuits, as long as the park is not charging customers to use the facility.
"The law has been upheld five times in court," said Crider, who is also a Kentucky State Police detective.
The KRS law will presumably give private and corporate landowners the confidence to lease their land to the trail system.
The groups asked District 2 Magistrate Chad Brock, who attended Tuesday's meeting, to add the proposed board to the next fiscal court meeting's agenda. The court will have to discuss it, the groups will have to meet again to discuss the court's position, and then the court will have to form the board at its next monthly meeting, all with less than five months before the park is planned to open.
"It sounds like the best way to go," said Crider, who gained support for the idea during a separate Mountain Crawler meeting the previous night.
Ridge Runner president Preston McClain said he liked the idea, but needed to discuss it further with his club. Both clubs agreed that more discussion is needed and plan on presenting their concerns to Grieshop in a meeting yet to be scheduled.
In the mean time, the clubs have plenty of activities planned, the soonest of which is a Mountain Crawlers trail ride this Saturday which will bring off-roaders from out-of-state groups with names like the "Kamikaze Mudders," "Atomic City" and "Plum Crazed 4WD." Any interested local trucks are also encouraged to come along for the ride, which will begin at the Village Center Mall at 9 a.m.
The group plans to host a "stock truck run" on Feb. 19 inviting drivers of unmodified vehicles to participate. For more information, interested parties can check their website at www.kymc.org, or the Ridge Runner website at www.kyoutdoors.com/hcrr/