The Extreme’s of Virginia
Although it might appear as though I waited to combine the last two VALOR trips to complete a thought, the fact is I was delinquent in writing a blog for our SW Virginia tour. The last two trips do lend themselves well to this blog though.
The geographical ends of Virginia are incredibly different in terms of topography but are eerily similar as it relates to their common problems. Both are secluded due to their geography and both are breathtakingly beautiful. Both areas are inhabited by an incredibly independent and resilient population capturing the natural resources of their environment to make a living for their family.
Hemp regulations in the west compared to menhaden allotments in the east to coal mining in the mountains and crabbing in the east.
We had some great discussions among the VALOR cohort regarding what could be done to improve the economic situation of the extremes and while there are certainly some opportunities, there is almost a resentment from folks of Tangier Island for example that want the government and outsiders to leave them alone.
I recently read “The Extremes of Virginia” by August Wallmeyer, and in this book, he does a great job of highlighting how the extremes of Virginia tend to be more subject to poverty and drug addiction. He goes on to say that one of the major reasons for economic disparity is that these areas were dependent on fewer industry and when a major industry leaves the area it makes a larger impact on more isolated areas. The coal industry for decades provided good paying jobs to rural SW Virginia, but when it started to decline so did the overall economic situation of the region. The same can be said about the fishing industry in the Northern Neck and although there is still an industry it is not as robust as it once was.
For all the reasons that make these regions stand out as an impoverished and addicted communities, there is also other reasons that make these communities stand out. As a resident of SW Virginia I have witnessed this first hand, there are no better people on the planet. I think the same would apply to the Northern Neck and Tangier Island. We had the pleasure of getting to meet and visit with the mayor of Tangier Island, Ooker. Ooker gave me the impression that his community is the same way.