Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 16

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS

KAYE WILLIS

'WHEN THE HARD TIMES CAME, WE FOUND WAYS FORWARD'

A New Normal for Blue Ridge Towns?
The pandemic has caused havoc. Can our small mountain towns survive in its wake?
By JOAN VANNORSDALL

T

wo years ago, I began traveling Blue Ridge
back roads to visit small towns that were moving forward in creative and effective ways. For
this writer, it was a dream come true: I've loved
these mountains since childhood; asking questions and listening to true answers has always
been my way of learning; and serving on Virginia's Alleghany County Board of Supervisors has given
me new understanding of how direction gets charted
and decisions get made.
And so "Our Blue Ridge Towns" column was born.
What I hoped to find was a beautiful pattern among the
towns that were reinventing themselves in the wake of
coal, large manufacturing and railroad shutdowns. Is it
possible, I wondered, for faraway places long dependent
on Big Industry bosses to become their own bosses?
Thousands of miles and 11 columns later, I'm beginning to see the light. These towns shared some traits and
practices that brought them success. The pattern looks
something like this:
* They understand their history-their Story-and
they tell it well in small museums, walking tours,\ and
festivals. (Think Jonesborough, Tennessee and its International Storytelling Center and Festival.)
* They believe in their Place, think creatively and look

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toward what can be rather than what has been. (Think
Whitesburg, Kentucky and its half-century of Appalshop
advocacy and outreach.)
* They form partnerships with nearby towns and work
together as a region politically and economically. (Think
Landrum, South Carolina and its four-town, two-state
Carolina Foothills tour.)
* They find ways to take the remains of what had
been and repurpose them into something new. Abandoned mountaintop removal coal sites become golf
courses with sweeping vistas (Prestonsburg, Kentucky),
or wildlife preserves bringing back native species (Bell
County, Kentucky). Rivers polluted by industry are
brought back to life by the Nature Conservancy for clean
recreation (St. Paul, Virginia). A closed landfill becomes
a Green Energy Park and glassblowing studio (Dillsboro,
North Carolina). An abandoned factory becomes one
of the largest data centers east of the Mississippi (Murphy, North Carolina). A crumbling, 100-year-old theater
becomes a community center; rusting train cars and a
derelict depot are restored and become a much-visited
railroad heritage center (Clifton Forge, Virginia).
* They value their natural resources-their mountains and valleys and rivers-and build walking, biking
and hiking trails; mountain driving and motorcycling


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Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020

Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 5
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Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover4
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