Balancing Beauty With Tourist Boom

For generations, we West Virginians relied largely on coal to fuel our economy. At about the time many of us decided the experts were right to advise us to diversify, along came the natural gas boom. Fossil fuels will continue to put food on many of our tables, directly and indirectly, for decades to come.

But what if I told you there’s another source of income that already brings in an annual average of about $2,300 for every man, woman and child in the state? What if it involved an inexhaustible, politically correct natural resource?

Wow. We ought to be expanding that, right?

Travel and tourism already accounts for about $4.27 billion in spending each year in West Virginia. A fair percentage of that flows into the Northern Panhandle.

But the real key to a major expansion lies east and south of here in the mountains, in my opinion. In many ways, there is no more beautiful place in the country. Often, out-of-state people who brave the comparatively bad roads to get into the Potomac Highlands, finding to the astonishment of some that West Virginians are among the friendliest folks they’ve ever met, come back.

Now, I can go for days doing nothing but walking in the woods, canoeing in the streams, exploring wild caves, climbing the rocks and taking nature pictures while I’m in the mountains. I have been told I’m easy to please.

But not everyone is like that. Many tourists want golf, skiing, pools in which the water won’t sweep them away, organizing rafting trips, night life more exciting than a campfire and other attractions.

If we Mountaineers can provide them against the backdrop of our mountains and mountain streams.

Some entrepreneurs already are gearing up for a semi-developed tourism boom. For example, there’s a proposal for a casino near Franklin, in gorgeous Pendelton County.

But here’s the thing: Sometime soon, we’re going to have to settle in our own minds the balance between neon-light tourist traps and preserving our mountains. We’d better do that quickly, because once Corridor H is completed, it’ll be easy for tens of millions of tourists to come here.

Rest assured that, thanks to God, the main attraction is already “built” – and they will come.

Myer can be reached at: