Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 15

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS

PIECES OF SMALL-TOWN
CLIFTON FORGE, VIRGINIA,
CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT:
* The Masonic Amphitheatre was built in
partnership with Virginia Tech students.
* The C&O Heritage Center is a replica of
the 1892 Clifton Forge Station.
* The 1905 Masonic Theatre underwent a
$6.7 million renovation in 2015.
* Trains-including the Amtrak Cardinal,
three days a week-still run the length of
Clifton Forge.

THIS IS THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE SPEAKING...

S

even years ago, when I retired, I moved from the City of Roanoke to Clifton Forge,
population 3,500, in Virginia's Alleghany Highlands. Half of our county's land is
national forest, and the mountains reach around our towns like geographic hugs. It's
home to Douthat State Park, one of Virginia's premier mountain biking, hiking and
camping destinations. Our longstanding arts and crafts center has hosted national
exhibits, and the School of the Arts offers painting, blacksmithing, music, sculpture,
stained glass, pottery and woodcarving classes. You can eat in a Cheers-like family
tavern or a French café owned by a former White House pastry chef. A beautifully
restored historic theatre presents concerts, acting workshops and free movies, building
community in the Alleghany Highlands, home to 20,000 diverse and hard-working
people.
We have a hospital. A school system that boasts both a national champion welder
and, this year, a valedictorian heading to Yale. A community college. Breweries, a
nearby cidery, distillery and winery. A 14.4-mile rails-to-trails walking and biking path
paralleling the scenic Jackson River, where recently, tennis great Venus Williams came
to go tubing.
The Alleghany Highlands is a place served by Amtrak, heading west to Chicago and
northeast to Washington, New York, and Boston three days a week. With easy access
to interstates 64, 77, and 81, leading to all major East Coast cities. It's an hour from
two airports. So if you're thinking of remote work, the office isn't so far away.
And-fact-Alleghany County has the best fiberoptic broadband in rural Virginia.
More than 80 percent of the Highlands has fast and reliable internet service, and that
number's going up monthly.
Having traveled Blue Ridge towns for years, I can tell you that our region is full of
places like mine.
Now's the time to open your eyes and your inquiring mind...and go explore them.
-JV

exploring and realize that the urban-rural divide isn't
drawn in stark black and white-that living in a small
town doesn't doom you to a Sinclair Lewis "Main Street"
existence devoid of coffee shops, art, theaters and good
restaurants.
I'm here to tell you that our small mountains towns
may offer things that, during this pandemic and in its
wake, are sustaining, grounding and healthy. Things
that have always been the hallmark of small towns, and
nowhere more than in the mountains: a strong sense of
community and resulting support during hard times; intergenerational friendships; low cost of living; numerous
volunteer opportunities; small classes in small schools;
outdoor recreation in your backyard; uncrowded restaurants where the owners greet you and the servers know
your favorites.
A half hour west of my small western Virginia town
of Clifton Forge is the historic Greenbrier Resort, with its
national golf and tennis tournaments; a half-hour north
is the equally elegant Homestead Resort. A hundred and
fifty years ago, people flocked from cities to take The
Cure in the mineral springs and baths at the Homestead
and Greenbrier.
Maybe it's time for city dwellers to take The Cure all
over again. To come to a place where remote work is easily
doable, where unpeopled mountain trails and rivers offer
limitless outdoor space and time. Where your neighbor

may work for the railroad or be a retired physician, work
at the ABC store or be an award-winning photographer.
Diversity in a small mountain town is a given-you can't
not know people you see and work with most every day.
Maybe-just maybe-a small town can be a place to
learn how the large world works.
This may be the time to ask ourselves a few questions.
Do we really want what we say we want-a return to
normal?
Or is this the time to seek something that isn't our
past, but could be our re-imagined future?
Are we brave enough to find new ways of living, new
patterns of being, new places for ourselves?
Are we brave enough to live in a place where your
neighbors may not be like you, but need to be listened to
and respected? Because I guarantee you-you'll see them
at the Kroger store often.
Writing in BELT magazine, Alina Stine puts it like this:
"When you look for a model on how to remake the world
after the pandemic, [m]ake it a place where strangers care
for strangers without expecting anything in return. Make
it a place where the community is only as strong as its
weakest member, and where help is given, as much and
as often as it can be."
Because in a small town, it's a given that people work
together to build their future-and here in the mountains,
they know you even when you're wearing a mask.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020

15



Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 5
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 6
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 7
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 8
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 12
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 13
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 18
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 20
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 28
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover4
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