Central Appalachia, once home to a bustling coal industry is today riddled with abandoned mine lands. But efforts continue to re-purpose and transform them into economic drivers for the future. In southwestern Virginia many projects are in the planning phase, some are under way, and many more are in the works.
A plan by a coalition of stakeholders from 4 central Appalachian states, focuses on sustainable development for communities which lost their economic drivers when spent coal mines shut down. They include a a variety of strategies, from hiking trails to swimming spots in wild and gorgeous regions that couldn’t quite portray themselves as a recreational destinations, while the mining was in full swing.
The Devil’s bathtub project in southwestern Virginia's Jefferson National Forest, has already seen a large uptick in visitors and become a boon to the local economy. Now they're working on a good problem to have, not enough parking for thousands of weekend visitors. Another promising plan in the works involves building large solar farms, literally atop the abandoned mines, replacing one, declining energy source with another one on the rise.
"There’s a tremendous opportunity to support the growth of a locally rooted solar industry cluster within our coal fields in central Appalachia, which is what we’re actively working to do here in southwest Virginia." says Adam Wells, with Appalachian Voices
“And it’s really critical work for us to do. It would be all too easy for already established solar developers to come in and drop (solar) panels on roofs or on the ground and then export the wealth, which really just replicates the model of 'extractive industry,' that’s largely contributed to our economic hardship. And, we really need to work collaboratively, across the region, to do everything we can to make sure we set up projects that invest in our communities locally."
A bill, long pending in congress, the 'RECLAIM" act, would fund projects like the 20 outlined in the plan, by freeing up a billion dollars over 5 years, already ear marked to revitalize coal communities.