Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As Eric DiNovo and I were huddled beneath a VDOT tent at Breaks, Va., dodging raindrops and waiting for Gov. Bob McDonnell to arrive, I struck up a brief conversation with my esteemed press colleague, Joe St. Clair. Joe knows Buchanan County like the back of his hand. Several years ago when I was in Buchanan County on a regular basis, I got to know my way around too, but that part of my brain wasn’t working when I drove to the Virginia Department of Transportation press event for McDonnell’s announcement.
Through the years, I have traveled to Breaks Interstate Park three different ways, from Vansant, Va., Up Harman and through Honaker, Va. The Honaker route, to me, was the long way. I was on Big A Mountain more than a decade ago, and I came back to Rosedale, Va., and on to Bluefield one rainy night. It was late when I was driving that night and much later when I got home. For outsiders like me, there’s no quick route up to Breaks, Va., or back down for that matter.
I asked Joe if Route 83 was open all the way back to Vansant from Haysi, and he told me that it wasn’t the road that VDOT had closed. He looked at me with a little surprise, and said that way might be faster for me to get back to the Tazewell County Fair, but added that when he drove to Breaks, he just came Up Harman, “like we always do,” he said. I realized that his puzzled look was because I even asked in the first place. Even in the middle of somewhere I had never been before, Joe knew I knew where I was.
As Eric and I left the press conference, I gave the Buick her head and rolled along with the road, heading downhill all the time. Eric asked if I knew where I was at, and I just cranked up my Donna Summer tape a little louder. He said: “That sign says Harman, but I don’t remember seeing it on the way up the mountain.” I just kept driving.
Within a matter of moments, I started recognizing places where I had talked to people years ago — remembered specific conversations and the context of why I was there. Back in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time there, writing stories about the dramatic need for better roads. Delegate Jackie Stump and Hobart Honaker had me up in that country more times than I can recall every time that VDOT came to straighten out another curve in the road. I remembered how much I enjoyed those days Up Harman.
Eric and I were pressed for time that day since we needed to get to the Tazewell County Fair, but it seemed like it only took a few minutes to get down to the Levisa Fork valley and reconnect with U.S. Route 460 a little west of Grundy, Va., near Big Rock, Va. Eric and I traveled to Grundy, and Eric said he needed to go to the Walmart to take a few pictures. I have been to Grundy several times since the new Walmart opened, but never took the time to drive over and look at the new store close up. Since I was living on Eric time that afternoon, I got out of the Buick and looked around.
All I could say was: “Wow!” What a unique experience! The storefronts were clean, new and open, representing several businesses that I was not familiar with. The multiple-decked Walmart store was an attraction in its own right, with the multi-level parking garage an attractive component of the overall structure. I was walking around with a smile on my face, and thinking that this was an incredible transformation to change a flood-prone area into viable retail shopping district.
From my vantage point, I could look across the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River and see the stately Buchanan County Courthouse. Just beyond the courthouse along Slate Creek, I could see the incredible footprint of the Appalachian School of Law. I haven’t provided a play-by-play account of the transformation of Grundy in the press, but I’ve been on hand to witness some of the highlights in recent years. I found the sights I saw on that Saturday to be nothing short of fantastic.
Several years ago, I attended the opening of the McDonald’s Restaurant in Vansant. The next morning I had driven up to Richmond and was sitting outside Del. Stump’s office, talking with Hobart Honaker about the event. I mentioned that the Grundy Senior High School band performed for the ceremony.
We both talked that it seemed like that was a lot of a fuss for the opening of a fast food restaurant, but as I think back on it now, I think the thing that made it so special was that the community embraced and celebrated the arrival of change. The old way wasn’t working, so the entire community got behind the concept of doing something different ... something new. It made me believe that a positive attitude can move mountains.