By C.V. Moore
Q. Much of Fayette County’s tourism is based on outdoor recreation and the beauty of our natural surroundings. Yet some locals have also raised concern over surface mining that’s going on in the county. Are outdoor recreation tourism and intensive forms of resource extraction compatible?
It is (incompatible) if mountaintop mining is destroying assets used in adventure tourism, but I don’t know that it is. From my experience, adventure tourists are coming for the experience and the memories. I don’t know how much a visual plays a part in that. I haven’t done any surveys. It hasn’t slowed anything down around here, has it? That’s what I’d look at. I think adventure tourism and a sustainable environment can go hand in hand. (Surface mining) is a part of the natural resources here being changed. The consumer will determine whether that’s detrimental or not. ... Probably that could impact you in the future. ... You’ve got a great base of adventure tourism and I wouldn’t want to see that erode. That’s a tough balance.
Q.How do you keep the “unique local flavor” of a place that you talk about, and that people come here to enjoy, and at the same time welcome people into the community who may bring other cultural influences?
You’ve got to have an open mind about new ideas and diversity. The fact is that the new creative class wants to live in places where there is diversity and where people are not just like them. They want to live in a community where people are different. Those areas that get ready to attract this creative class of workers — and by getting ready that’s beefing up your tourism assets — embrace that, and are authentic in that are going to be the ones that attract that creative class that can live anywhere they want to.
Q.Historically there has been some tension and mistrust here between people who have spent their whole lives here and people who have relocated here because of the outdoor pursuits available. How does a community work through that?
We call that the “diffusion of cultures,” when cultures start to diffuse and incorporate and respect each other. That’s typical of a lot of resort areas, like Myrtle Beach. It’s common when tourism causes an area to grow; you get those conflicts sometimes. There’s also the economic development end that provides jobs and taxes, and people have to trade off on that. A community has to decide. If it wants to grow its economy, things are going to be different and there’s going to be change. The tradeoff is accepting some of those differences in exchange for a growing economy.
Q. Like much of southern West Virginia, Fayette County has a significant percentage of residents below the poverty line (1 in 5). How do we make sure that we’re not gentrifying and displacing people who live here, that the economic opportunities are felt by all?
When development occurs, actually some of the lower-income people will be provided jobs. There are new opportunities that come with it. There are new places to work, new career paths. They can use it as a stepping stone to a first college degree. Some resort areas that grow like that notice that some lower-income people that used to work in minimum-wage jobs actually see opportunities increase for them. Community college can get people involved in training to develop new skills and get higher wages.
When tourism puts pressure on prices to go up in an area — and that’s common in the North Carolina mountains, in resort areas like Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg — along with that growth come other opportunities for work too. Some resort areas have given local residents cards that get them 20 percent off. They take care of locals by giving them a break in price. That’s part of the growth. You can’t have one without the other.