I did not grow up there, but my father, Lester Coe, did, as did his father…well, Cranberry Ridge. My great-grandfathers, Perry Coe and Leonard Green, arrived in this country at the dawn of the Timber Era and were instrumental in the de-forestation of the last stand of old-growth woods east of the Mississippi. It took 50 years, but they got ’em all! The unbalanced rape of Nicholas/Webster/Pocahontas Counties scarred the mountains and poisoned the streams. As early as 1920 the Gauley was discolored from the tannery on the Cherry River in Richwood. Later, coal was extracted to further pollute the planet.
But Earth is resilient. New forests thrive and native brook trout swim in streams uninhabitable to them even two years ago. Ramp fields bask on the mountain side and ginseng hides in the hollow. Richwood, whose population peaked before the Great Depression and continued to prosper until the 1960s, can return to health also. But this resurrection can ONLY occur with a new, 21st Century infra-structure to replace the zero sum Coal Economy. How? People want to live in harmony with the natural beauty of our Appalachians. The re-birth of Richwood means providing jobs and attracting tourism. Push high-speed internet up the Cherry and watch life, law-abiding family-rearing life, rush upstream. Entrepreneurs, internet marketeers, programmers, authors, artisans, The Creative Class, as Richard Florida describes them. Richwood would develop into a Nicholas County Santa Fe/Taos, a smaller Asheville, NC. And it would occur quicker than the South Fork Dam could ever happen, yielding a year-around business climate of prosperity. But only with a few citizens sharing this vision and taking lead who will not accept no…and only with the political will in Charleston and Washington to grease the skids.