Making a Living in Southwestern Virginia
Family farm, Meadows of Dan
For as long as I can remember, tourism has been a major influence on the area where I grew up. The Blue Ridge Parkway, built along the high ridge in sight of my house, was one of three major construction projects during the 1920s and 1930s that opened a once isolated region to the world. Men came in with the builders, married local girls, and some stayed, while some moved on with their new families. They left behind a community that was changed. With incomes affected by chestnut blight and with an easier way to travel, people began to find other ways of making a living that took them off the small family farm. Some people traveled to the textile mills, while others ventured into the coal fields. The Depression made little difference to the small communities that depended on subsistence farming, but World War II drew even more farm boys away from the mountains.
While natives were leaving the area, tourism began to build on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Travelers passed through, attracted particularly by Mabry's Mill, a unique attraction just a mile from Meadows of Dan. For many years tourists were not a part of the local economy. Eventually as land became available from fading family farms, visitors bought property and built vacation homes in the hills that they had been admiring from the Parkway. A few local entrepreneurs noticed the flow of money that was cruising past, and set up shop at the crossroads to serve the tourists and support themselves. A once sleepy village is now a booming tourist center, especially in the beautiful months of fall.
The modern traveler wants more than pretty scenery. She's looking for an experience and the communities along the Parkway that offer unique shops, music and other entertainment are making a success of tourism. But the shops can only do so much. With family farms in trouble and making a living growing more and more difficult in Southwestern Virginia, a changing landscape may drive the tourists away. Urban sprawl is affecting tourism in more traditional historic areas. While Southwestern Virginia isn't affected to those extents, the loss of the family farm as well as the loss of the local people will leave very little for tourists to enjoy.
Sue Shelor, Gourd Artist, Mountain Meadow Crafts
There are no easy answers to the problems facing any economy with limited resources. But tourism has become a way for this little community to survive. New inititives like Round the Mountain, an artisan's guild, and The Crooked Road, a traditional music trail, are beginning to offer means to promote artisans and musicians so that they can make a living doing what they love, and benefit their communities with tourist dollars. It's an exciting time for a community that was once made up of farmers, millers and shopkeepers. Traditional arts and farming are once again becoming a possible means of making a living in Meadows of Dan.
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