(That title was inevitable. I thought with all the driving I'm in the midst of, I could at least make it somewhat topical.)
Today I started my first "grown-up" job going to a fiddlers' convention! Despite my father's fear that Clifftop is a Yankee, hippie-ridden place, it's a very nice convention. There are lots of Yankee hippies but they all seemed nice and I didn't hear one word about Deliverance. I put up fliers for our KidFid contest at the Opera House in September, reconnected with some old friends (most notably Special Ed and the Short Bus), and listened to some nice fiddle and banjo music.
On the way home, I stopped in gorgeous Lewisburg. A friend and I visited in the fall and I fell in love. I really think Lewisburg is one of the only places outside of the Eastern Montgomery/Floyd area I could see myself settling. Even though it's right off 64, Lewisburg has managed to hold on to their downtown and have lots of great shops (Robert's Antiques, an antique store cum wine cellar and Serenity Now Outfitters are two of my favorites).
The drive from Lewisburg to home in Green Bank got me thinking, however. Just what does a fiddle contest for kids have to do with rural poverty? How has Lewisburg and Greenbrier County managed to remain picturesque and wealthy (one would think they'd have to give up some of their beauty to reap the rewards of a nearby interstate)?
The first question is much easier to answer than the first, I think. According to the westvirginiaminesaftey.org, coal directly employs about 40,000 people in this state and that number is shrinking. Tourism employs about 40,000 people as well while it is the state's fastest growing industry. This number also doesn't include the number of people employed in ecotourism, state parks, and other recreation areas. Marlinton, thankfully, isn't near a coal seam but logging has certainly devastated some of the forests here and this part of the state isn't immune from the previously discussed "brain drain." Cultural activities, such as KidFid, not only help people in this area to own their culture and see it as vital and downright fun, but it also brings money into the local economy without felling a single tree or blowing the top off any mountains. And I get to go to some fiddle fests in the process. Everybody, but King Coal and his friend the logging industry, wins.
I'll have to think a little longer and get to know the area better before I can answer the second question. Thoughts?