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West Virginia full of ghost towns

Column

Columnist

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 00:02

If you get in your car and head east on the highway past Charleston and into the heart of West Virginia, you’ll find a variety of desperation, hopelessness and joblessness. If you try to get out of your car and triumphantly announce that the Dow Jones Industrial average is as high as it’s ever been (+/- 1%), the response would be less than cheerful.

I distinctly remember the first time I heard the word recession used in reference to the U.S. economy. My mom and I were driving through the same kind of place I mentioned earlier when the radio DJ mentioned that the latest numbers from “the economy” showed that we may be entering a recession soon. Even at 16 years old, that kind of news can only be taken ironically. After all, how could things possibly get worse for places like Iager, Welch or West Union, West Virginia where the economy has largely ceased to exist, leaving on a handful of desperate people with little alternative but taking state government assistance just to survive.     
In our corner of the state, circumstances are not usually as dire. Even though Huntington is a fraction of the town it was in its 1950s heyday, we still hold claim to being the largest inland port in America. Although many of The Jewel City’s jobs are less than glamorous, they do exist.

In 2011, the City of Huntington’s population grew for the first time since the early 1950s. Although the growth was small, the return of any life into this town is a drastic improvement of the conditions we have faced my entire life. Since I was kid in the West End of Huntington, I have seen the slow return growth in the town, or at least a fading of the desolation and devastation most of the towns in the Ohio River Valley faced in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Oddly enough, most of these developments have come despite economic decline on a national level rather than some improving national condition.

Unfortunately, many of the less conveniently located citizens of the Mountain State have not faired as well. Small towns continue to die around the state. I have been to county seats in this state that don’t have so much as a proper grocery store. The recession hit these towns generations ago, and it must have seemed to them that nothing could make their situation any worse. Why care?
The reality of the situation is that many of these places — and even our (slightly) growing community on the Ohio River — will soon begin to feel the hurt that the rest of the US felt the last five years. With budget cuts beginning to come into effect on a state level, many of these places that already barely exist will totally implode. Already,w there are counties in West Virginia that no longer meet the state constitution’s population requirements to exist as a separate county. What will happen to these places when their courthouses close, the corner Exxon packs up shop, and whatever is left of their population slowly trickles away?
I don’t have a solution for this problem. West Virginia is a beautiful state full of amazing people. But if something doesn’t change on a state level soon, there may not be much of a state left.

At least we still have Buckwild.

 

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