While coal is very harmful to the environment, phasing it out of use has left an economic hole in many communities. People used to rely on coal as a means of living. Now, communities are going green, energy sources are going renewable, and these formerly coal-powered communities are adapting.
Former coal-mining town Dante, Virginia entered its new age by embracing eco-tourism.
Leaving the golden age of coal
Coalmining used to fund everything in Dante, offering widespread employment and economic stimulation. Now, Dante has 40 percent unemployment and a much-decreased population.
“You wouldn’t believe how pretty Dante used to be,” said Dante native, Bobbie Gullett to The Guardian. She and her friend, Lou Wallace, remember the past but want to make Dante a vibrantly modern town.
Renewing Dante, Virginia
Gullet and Wallace are members of the Dante Community Association, a group that works with other organizations — such as the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program, which provides funds to rehabilitate former mines — to restore the Dante community and help the land around them.
“Coal is not renewable,” said Wallace. “It’s come to the end of its way. We’ve come to a new generation, and we need to start thinking. We have to be OK with a building becoming something else, with change and renewal.”
The Dante Community Association and its supportive community members are using their land’s natural beauty and remarkable biodiversity to revitalize Dante. They aim to make trails for hiking, mountain biking, and ATV rides. In 2018, they applied for a grant and were awarded the money to close two mineshafts and make their own network of hiking and ATV trails that connect to the Spearhead Trails system that leads to more frequented areas on the Clinch River.
They have the money and the approval to go ahead and start building trails. Enough tourism and organizational support could see Dante save more of its land for camping or other recreational activities, bring more traffic into the town, and diversify its economy to appeal to more tourists.
This will enable people to see what Dante was like and what its full potential is. Lou Wallace says she wants this “to bring other people here, to see what coal country was like, and to see that it’s not a moonscape, it’s a beautiful forest that we can recreate in.”