I believe in Appalachia. For many years the Appalachian mountain range was thought of as a wilderness, home to low wage earners, illiterate farmers, coal miners, blue-collar workers.
Appalachia proper is made up of nine different states, all rich in natural resources—coal, timber, natural gas, and water. West Virginia is the only state totally within the Appalachian region. I was born and raised in West Virginia and after service with the Marines in the South Pacific in World War II I returned to these mountains I love.
Sixty years ago we provided the energy to build a war machine unmatched in the history of the world. That machine was built with the blood and bones of many a coal miner who died in the darkness of the mines. The fate of our country literally hinged on the hard work of Appalachians.
West Virginians still descend into the earth, extracting the rich bituminous coal to fire the furnaces that warm your home. But many of West Virginia’s coalmines played out forty years ago, and the out-of-state owners of the mineral rights left our little coal towns to fend for themselves, providing no help in building better roads or sewage treatment plants. Most of these little coal camps were too small to incorporate and many exist today just as they did those many decades ago.
America depends on her natural resources, and I believe the time will come when our leaders will understand what can still be found in these beautiful mountains. A hundred years ago our pristine creeks, rivers and lakes teemed with fish and our hills were full of game. In recent years, as strip mining has evolved into the abominable practice of removing entire mountaintops, many hundreds of our creeks and rivers have simply disappeared. I have no negative feelings for the workers who must make a living with this kind of work; but it has always been a mystery to me why our elected officials allow the profits from our natural resources to flow entirely out of state. Why do we have no factories here to make furniture from our abundant hardwoods? Why do we have no clean-burning power plants, so we can sell—rather than give—our power to surrounding states?
One resource we have in abundance may soon be more valuable than all the oil flowing from the countries where we now wage war. We cannot drink oil, as we cannot eat the refuse piles left to dam our streams and rivers. But our Appalachian mountains can still run with clean, clear streams. One day clean water may be more valuable than coal.
The Bible says The rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. America needs to look to the rivers and creeks of Appalachia with greater care. Our goal should be to restore them to the life-giving conditions in which we first found them. Our lives may depend on it.
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