Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes Boone County a good or bad place to live depending on your perspective.
As I've taken some vacation time to defragment my brain from the daily work grind that we all need to step away from for our own mental health, I find myself cranking out some copy early on a Tuesday morning. The animals have been taken care of (food, treats, litter scoop and puppy poo run to the designated area of the yard), I'm in my favorite chair with a cup of tea and some reflection on what I've learned about Boone County since my return to the state and my home county in late 2016.
On a positive note, I've found that good people remain here. This is because good people generally, but not always, raise good people.
I've learned that there is a focused initiative by a small but determined group of people to push the county forward despite the stupor the came along after the coal industry declined.
While politicians spew the vote-catching appeal of "diversifying the economy," there is some work to do before this can happen. Any economist worth the cost of their education will tell you that this can be a decades-long transformation that won't happen during the term of an elected office.
Before anyone will invest in Boone County, we have some work to do and this work has already begun. Our county commission has made a real effort to clean up the county and hold people accountable for treating our landscapes like a landfill. Citizens can now report offenders on our county clerk's website via a simple form that will spawn an investigation. Our city and town leaders have followed that same effort and it shows. Whitesville, Madison, Danville and Van all look much cleaner than when I arrived three years ago. I've noticed, and so have others. It is a topic of conversation in my office on a regular basis.
While Danville is adding Taco Bell to its roster of fast food chains to the obvious delight of locals, I'd like to see more shops and eateries open around the county with some creative offerings to not only tantalize the locals, but also bring in visitors. Fayetteville and Lewisburg are great examples of how a burger joint can be unique and cool enough to bring in the hipsters while also offering something that us older, less voguish folks can sink our teeth into.
There has been a lot of talk about the Hatfield McCoy Trail System around the county and I'll be working more on a piece about that when I return from vacation. Without delving deeply into that before my piece is published, I want to express my disagreement with many in the community who push the sentiment that tourism alone can save Boone County.
In my opinion, it is merely a link in a chain that can pull us from the ditch line. It won't save our souls or turn us into the Catawba Valley area of North Carolina where people come from around the globe to learn pottery from some of the best in the world. This creates jobs. While we have very talented artisans in our region, there isn't one specific chic element that will bring people here to study a craft in the way that aspiring luthiers travel to Elkins every summer to learn.
We have our waters, which thanks to community efforts have been consistently cleaned of debris. There has been a lot of talk about our mountain towns becoming ATV-friendly on our roads to facilitate trail-friendly tourism. That is all fine and good until a human-guided missile comes around a curve left of center and does $5,000 worth of damage to your car and you're left with the bill because they aren't required to be licensed or insured.
This is a very taboo subject in this county and everyone is afraid to discuss it from law enforcement to political leaders because everyone owns one, but we don't all use them for transportation on roads laced with yellow lines. But when a drunken yahoo wipes out the side of your new car, you'll change your tune faster than a politician changes their ideology in a crisis. How we skirt state law regarding these vehicles and hold those who cause damage with them accountable is a large piece of this puzzle. Of course, the scenario I just put forth can be reversed. Drunken goobers can drive cars, too, and wipe out ATV riders.
In closing, before we can become this hip mountain community that we lament about in the movies, we have some infrastructure to build, some old ways of thinking must become more progressive and we have to invest in ourselves by doing our part to be responsible citizens and curators of our beautiful landscape. We need more young people in local government. We need LOCAL business owners.
Then they will come. Then our young talent will have reason to stay.
Reach reporter Phil Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @philipdperry.