Although we staunchly support the transition away from coal energy, we cannot ignore the struggles of the many communities that have long relied on coal mining. Fayetteville, West Virginia, is just one of the many towns within Appalachia to be hit hard by the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
The town sits on some of the country’s highest-grade coal; mining formed the region’s economic backbone for decades. Since 2008, however, coal production in West Virginia is thought to have fallen by 40 percent. The number of coal miners in Fayette County has halved in the last decade to around 600.
But not all is bleak in Fayetteville. Over the past few years, recreation tourism has seen a major upswing. Although the number of people taking commercial rafting trips has fallen nationwide since the 1990s—including in West Virginia—industry experts estimate that in 2019 the state hosted around 103,000 trips, channeling some $30 million into the economy. Independent kayakers and rafters are believed to bring West Virginia another $5 to $10 million a year.
Fayetteville’s outdoor recreation companies have broadened their offerings to include seasonal camping and rock climbing, as well as year-round zip lining on vast, wooded campuses. Rock climbing at nearby Summerville Lake and other local spots have exploded in recent years, adding $12 million a year to the economies of Fayette County and its neighbors, Nicholas and Raleigh Counties. And every October, some 80,000 people cram onto the New River Gorge Bridge to watch BASE jumpers dive into an 876-foot deep chasm. These events and industries have sparked new businesses, from gourmet sandwich shops and craft breweries to live music venues.
Of course, big challenges remain for towns like Fayetteville, but at least we’re seeing that there is life after coal—and it seems a lot more enjoyable than having to dig for coal.