The Edge of Appalachia
Grace Jennings, Division 3, Graduate school #ws16e-s2d3

Tucked away on the fast paced route of I-81, the Blue Ridge Mountains remain a distant view to many. As a small part of the Appalachian region, which extends from Maine all the way down to Georgia, the Blue Ridge has always been a common sight for me. Whether I was travelling to visit my family, going to school, or just passing through I continue to marvel in the beauty of this unique area. The Blue Ridge Mountain area offers gorgeous landscapes as well as a diverse subculture almost unparalleled across the country. Even though I live far from there now, I will always think of this area as my favorite place.

Most views of Appalachia see it as a backwards, hidden area of the United States. I will admit that it is in some parts, but despite this, I see these quirks as charms. My family is originally from the Appalachian area of Virginia. Arguably one of the most economically unique regions seen through mining, farming, or moonshining, this heritage is something I am proud of. My grandfather worked a union job at a paper mill for the majority of his life while my grandmother dropped out of school in the eighth grade. She worked for General Electric, making computer circuit boards. From listening to her stories and learning more about her from my dad, I know that the common views of education and values they attribute to are not always accurate. While my grandfather finished high school, I saw my grandmother as an example that dropping out of school is not synonymous with being unintelligent. Even one of my great grandparents was illiterate and was still able to be successful and take care of their family.

One of the most important characteristics of Appalachia is its economy. The area is still widely recognized from its controversial industries. Coal mining and factory making became the backbones of this region, which are now beginning to dissipate due to overseas trade and environmental concerns. However, while the majority of the country does not see the immediate and beginning effects of these issues, I was able to see first-hand the effects of outsourcing. When I would visit my grandparents we would take drives through the city. Driving around Lynchburg, the city where they lived, and going through the downtown area became of my favorite things to do. Many of the buildings there today are integrated within the hills reaching all the way down to the James River. Along with the up and coming restaurants, exercise studios, and hotels are the remnants, almost ruins, of old factories and mills. And while this may not be beautiful to some, my favorite part of cruising through town is still seeing what the city used to be made of just a few twenty years ago. The buildings are converted into stylish lofts while the industries are changing to recycle paper and shrink into smaller offices. It is interesting to imagine how different the city would look if these companies and industries remained the same.

Despite the waning industry, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer unbelievable views across the state. Because of their beauty and location, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his influence to create the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I will go at least an hour out of my way to drive on. A part of his New Deal programming, the parkway’s construction employed hundreds of people to lay down the 469-mile path. The project brought more jobs and families to the area. While much of the land used to construct the parkway was taken by eminent domain, another issue in the Appalachian region, it was completed ultimately by the Parks Services after being passed down by the federal government. The project took decades but was used throughout construction, revealing its importance and intrigue to many different people.

Even before the government recognized the beauty of the cascading hills and mountains, many native residents would frequent the hiking trails. Robert E. Lee was known to make trips out to Sharp Top Mountain, sitting in the Peaks of Otter. I have climbed this mountain numerous times, as well as others in this range. From cliffs overlooking cities to waterfalls hidden between rock walls, I am fortunate enough to have hiked numerous trails not only in the Blue Ridge Mountains but on the Appalachian Trail. Each experience leaves me appreciative of and connected with the environment around me. I enjoy being able to think clearly in the thick forest found on these trails while still enjoying time spent with the people I hike along. I went to my undergraduate university, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in the heart of Appalachia. My proximity to more mountains and hiking trails enabled me to enjoy this past time so much more. I thought that leaving the beach area where I grew up would be difficult, but I continue to find myself wanting to go back to the mountains.

When asked where my favorite place is, it is hard to pinpoint one spot. The Appalachian region of Virginia, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains, is such a large area, but offers so many unique points. The changing culture, scenic views, and peculiar history all create this area to be unlike any other. My family as well as school ties to this area make it so much more special and one I will always want to travel back to.
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