Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 17

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS
routes; beaches and boat marinas; stocked streams and
lakes (every town I've visited, with Hinton, West Virginia a standout).
* They understand that the arts (shops, studios, galleries, workshops, concert venues) draw thousands of visitors
(every town I've visited, notably Thomas, West Virginia
and Murphy, North Carolina).
That's what I saw, and came to understand. Along the
way, I met a lot of great civic leaders and passionate town
patriots who demonstrate with passion what it means to
love a mountain place without boundary.
And then came the coronavirus shutdown.
Travel and tourism came to a screeching halt. Businesses were shuttered. Theaters locked their doors. Restaurants
and hotels went empty. Sports venues fell silent. Gatherings of all kinds-even church services-were forbidden.
Despite state and federal relief funding, our small towns
are hurting. Meals and lodging taxes, the mainstay of
many tourist-visited areas, have plunged.
With tourism still slow and the virus still present...can
our Blue Ridge towns survive?
I am here to tell you that they will. In fact, they will not
just survive-they will thrive. And for the very reasons I
chose to visit them over the past two years.
We've lived in the dark valleys of hard times before,
and when the hard times came, we found ways forward.
Proactive has always been our default when industries
pulled up stakes and left. Now, proactive will be our
survival.
Small mountain towns have always worked with what
they had-these mountains and rivers and winding roads;
the creative resourcefulness of people bent on staying in
their place. Now it's time to ask for what we need, to make
that possible once again.
First and foremost, better broadband, to facilitate
remote work and online learning. With education
going online, the lack of high-speed-or any-internet is
crippling. I'll never forget walking past my small library
during Pandemic Spring, seeing teenagers sitting on lawn
chairs wrapped in blankets, doing their school work on

laptops when their school shut down. "We don't have internet at my house," they told me.
More funding for our mountains trails and rivers, our state parks and national forests. Watching
Virginia's Douthat State Park fill almost overnight with
mountain bikers, hikers and campers when Phase 2 of Virginia's reopening was announced says it all-now more
than ever, people are hungry for the freedom and beauty
of the outdoors.
Expanded, free community college courses,
targeting 21st-century job skill development. If the workforce is available, the employers will come. As Roosevelt
did with his New Deal job programs, we can create skilled
workers for today's economy. And for those who already
have the necessary job skills...we want you here. Businesses are increasingly aware of the productive benefits of
remote work, and there's no traffic!
Increased support for nonprofits, the arts, and
artists. Like the outdoors, the arts are a mainstay of many
small towns' economies. A recent economic impact study
of Clifton Forge, Virginia's Historic Masonic Theatre revealed a nearly $710,000 regional economic impact. And
Whitesburg, Kentucky's Appalshop recently announced
two arts initiatives: the Appalshop Creators Fund, providing grants to individual artists in central Appalachia, and
a National Endowment for the Arts-funded partnership
with neighboring Pound, Virginia.
A new mountain normal? When
you live in these old mountains,
FACING PAGE: Prestonsburg,
you know that there's really nothKentucky's tidy Court Street is
ing new under the sun. They'll be emblematic of towns on the rise.
here long after the pandemic dust
BELOW LEFT: Hinton, West
has settled.
Virginia, is among many towns
To my mind, it's more a retaking great advantage of its
newed mountain normal that we'll natural surroundings.
see, shaped by the creative energy
of those who call these mountain BELOW: Clifton Forge,
Virginia, our columnist's
small towns home.
hometown, is the inspiration
And I can't wait to get to back for the Our Blue Ridge Towns'
collection of town profiles.
on the road to witness it.

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

17



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
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 6
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 7
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 8
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 9
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Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 17
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Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - Cover4
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