National Geographic : 1976 Jun
Turoarodi Time in West Virginia By ELIZABETH A. MOIZE SENIOR EDITORIAL STAFF Photographs by JODI COBB I USED TO HAVE a log cabin in Virginia, one ridge over from her western offspring and neighboring state. On evening walks I often perched on a fallen log to wonder at those hills that rolled on to sunset. All I saw from my vantage point was the peace of soft green and golden light and winking windows that called men to their mountain homes. Yet I knew that West Virginia in the sixties was far from untroubled. Headlines cried of poverty and mine disasters. The world saw pictures of gritty coal towns and sad-faced children. We heard of bad schools and bad roads; some said West Virginia was only a place to be from. So, in my search for solace from the frantic weekday world of the city, I kept to my side of the line. Then, not too long ago, a whisper of hope wafted out of the West Virginia valleys. Mountaineers were coming home. New comers were moving in, seeking the simple, spare way of life that has been preserved in the state's isolation. Like the switchbacks on her country roads, West Virginia was turning around. I answered that westering light and crossed to the next ridge. The state is a rough-cut jewel-virtually all mountains. There are West Virginians who brag that if the state were flattened, she'd rival Texas in size. Countless times as I explored her reaches, I would pull to a stop to catch my breath at the forested spectacle. One autumn afternoon as I stood overlooking the New River Gorge, a weathered moun taineer turned to me and asked, "You ever been to the Rockies?" When I replied that I had, he continued proudly, "Well, so have I, and it ain't no prettier than this." But West Virginia's riches lie more than soil deep. Arteries of coal course through her depths-enough reserves to last the nation 125 years. Her rocks hold two thousand bil lion cubic feet of natural gas and 34 million barrels of oil. Energy Demand Sparks New Prosperity Why, then, did West Virginians for decades search for a better living in Detroit and Day ton, Chicago and Cincinnati? Why are they now coming home? For the first time in 20 years the state's population is increasing, and her unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Some of the answers I learned from Dr. William H. Miernyk, economist and director of the Regional Research Institute at West Virginia University in Morgantown. "Coal is the reason for both the decline and the recovery," he told me. "Until about five years ago any (Continued on page 759) "I guess it's in my blood," says Carolyn Tolley of her newfound love for old-time music. She fiddles for Johanna Hardwick at a festival near Pipestem. Echoing Carolyn's discovery of her own mountain heritage, the growing pride of other West Virginians has beaten back the stigmas of isolation and poverty as they also find new riches in their hills.