Hundreds of articles have been written about the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains. As many as there are, words can’t describe what it’s like living within the many hollers and hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many authors think they know what life in the hills is like. I believe however, that until they themselves experience the lifestyle they’re writing about, they will never truly understand what it’s like.
Many people associate the mountains with the beautiful flora and fauna found in the standing Harwood forests that dominate the Blue Ridge. Others might think of the restaurants, breweries, and other shops that have now dominated many of the mountain town’s Downtown area. However, the once industrial related towns and communities are starting to crumble as tourism grows. Cattle pastures are being sold in lots, river accesses are being roped off, and the tax rate of our scenic views are at an all-time high. With all this tourism and change coming to the Blue Ridge Mountains one has to ask: At what price are we mountain folk willing to pay for our heritage and scared way of life?
As a kid, I can remember going with my dad to the local feed to get supplies for the farm. As we drove downtown the shops mostly consisted of hardware stores, boot stores, and your local mom and pop diners. Nowadays every downtown area seems to have several restaurant, bars, coffee shops, and odd ended stores that are only open half of the year. Because of this, I can’t help but wonder- what in the world happened? The simple fact is that with tourism comes change.
Tourism is great for our small towns to thrive and prosper. However, with more people comes more problems. An example of this right now is the effect of tourism on Yellowstone park. Not only has tourism brought more litter and debris to the park, it has also created a division between locals and newcomers. To me, a person does not have to be born and raised in our community to be welcomed and adopted as mountain folk. For me it is the actions and values that you bring and the manner in which you conduct while in the community. For example, imagine that a person from a community where large amounts of drinking is normal and acceptable, moves into a smaller more conservative community and tries to push alcohol. This is probably not going to go well and rightfully so.
Mountain folk look after one another and are the most caring, unselfish, God loving people on this earth. That is if they know and trust you. The Appalachian Mountains- and yes, I mean Appalachian, not Appa lachian– have always been portrayed as coal infested, poverty stricken, drug users who need saving. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Within the beautiful overlooks, up beat downtowns, and tourism stricken shops is a society that many people long so desperately for. Many people can drive down country roads just to see how beautiful the Mountain country side can be. To many the mountains are one of the best places for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. Yet few people realize that without farmers maintaining their fields and tending to their crops, the views many adore would become obsolete. They don’t realize how many hours of blood, sweat and tears our spent in those fields. They don’t know about the nights spent praying that rain would come and the anguish of how raised county taxes would affect farmer’s ability to make payments on the farm.
So my question to those that constantly push tourism as a saving grace for mountain towns is- do they really need saving? Many farmers and residents live a wonderful lifestyle that few in this world will ever be able to experience. A price tag cannot touch the memories, values and friendships that true mountain folk have. As I said before: you will never truly understand us mountain folk until you live as one of us.