Today we went to see an inactive coal mine that provides tours. The route to the mine was along roads carved into the side of mountains through forests of trees with their leaves afire with color. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I was driving, so I could not take too much time to admire the autumn colors. Instead, I had to focus on staying on the twisty, guardrail-free road. As beautiful as the road is now, I could not help but think how difficult the drive would be in the winter. A drive in a snowstorm would be borderline suicidal, meaning people who lived along the road could be stuck at home for days at a time in the winter.
The difficulty of winter travel is just one of the many obvious negatives to living in Appalachia. Life here is generally difficult, yet, despite the mass exodus from the region, people do choose to stay or even move in. For example, Nathan who works at the organization The Community Crossing with which we worked, is from Ohio, but chose to move his family down to West Virginia. Now his sons are able to live an idyllic, carefree childhood in the mountains that has become romantically nostalgic for most Americans. As one of my fellow trip members said, there are many good reasons to live here.
In this light, the economic development may not be what is best for the region. To clarify, I am not saying the residents should be prevented from escaping abject poverty in order to pastoral retreat for the rest of America. They should be given every economic opportunity provided to every American. However, I feel that Appalachians do not want condominiums built into the sides of their mountains. They probably do not want the region to be overrun by money, such that development overtakes the region’s natural beauty. I lived in Phoenix this summer and was struck by the way that even the sides of mountains were developed into neighborhoods, causing the land even in parks to lose its wild feel. Appalachia should remain “Wild and Wonderful” as West Virginia advertises itself, but ultimately the residents are those who should have the final say.