By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
With a $100,000 funding boost now guaranteed to promote the coming Spearhead Trail in Tazewell County’s Northern District, it seems all but assured that the venture will be moving forward within the coming summer. Riders may even be able to begin using parts of the trail before this calendar year is over.
That would be a tremendous boost to the local economy and maybe more importantly, a psychological shot in the arm, as well. Coal was king from Bishop to Pocahontas for a century and as long as the mines were operating, there were literally thousands of jobs available in this section of the country. The original “Baby Mine” closed at Pocahontas in 1955, then Boissevain shut down for all practical purposes by 1958 and was officially sealed in 1960. It took another 20 years or so but by the end of the decade of the 1980s, almost all of the old deep mines in Four Seasons Country, both Pocahontas Fuel Company (CONSOL) and U.S. Steel in Gary, had closed.
Since then, it’s been a steady decline all over the area. Every county in the area has endured school closings or consolidations. Once-bustling Bluefield, after the double whammy of Mercer Mall opening in 1980 and the very gradual reduction of the Norfolk-Southern operations, has struggled to maintain its corporate image. One by one, a legion of businesses have quietly fallen away. With the artery of 1-77 positioned perfectly for growth outside the Summit City, area residents have watched local towns such as Princeton and Wytheville continue to welcome new businesses while an ominous stillness has settled over much of the downtown. Perhaps that is already beginning to change. Some new local officials seem bursting with enthusiasm. Tourism is certainly being embraced all over. Local groups are providing avenues for entertainment ranging from plays and concerts to spirits festivals. Towns such as historic Bramwell have emerged as centers of activity throughout the year for which civic-minded leaders like Lou Stoker, among others, must be applauded. Sociologists say that it usually takes a number of years to build an economy and an equally long time for that to fall apart. Maybe now we are on the upswing.
This new trail linking both Virginia and West Virginia has the potential to help build a number of new enterprises. Hotels, restaurants, shops, and repair services will be increasingly in demand. We all look forward to a resurgence in the area and it will take all of us, in one way or another, to make it happen.
Speaking of resurgence, can’t you just hear the lawnmowers, weedeaters, tillers, chainsaws, and other devices groaning as spring comes ever closer? We will no doubt have a few more days of snow — including this weekend — but the sunshine is just over the horizon. Since December 22, the days have been gradually lengthening. It is now beyond 6:30 p.m. when darkness finally settles its curtain over the landscape.
Even the deer, after a frightening (for them!) season of dodging hunters, have begun to appear more and more in the open as they realize this is the time of year when they are protected by something, and it will soon be time for the critters to all be raising their families in the hills and hollers around here.
Farmers have been fixing fences and preparing for another summer of grazing cattle, sheep, and horses. It’s time to check the gates and corners, make sure water supplies are in good shape, and do all those “little” things that stewards of livestock know all too well need to be done. Same thing with the house. Spring cleaning time is right around the corner. Windows need to be done and a whole host of interior duties are asking for your help. After all, with these new opportunities for fun all over the area, getting those chores finished will mean more time to relax later on.
It is time to order those seeds, secure fertilizer, and get the tomato stakes ready for another growing season. If, like me, you find it increasingly difficult to do all those chores, then maybe you should mosey on down to the local grocery and get your vegetables in the produce section!
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.