DIY Zines, A Legendary 91-Year-Old Diner, And Pandemic-Fueled Homebuying In Appalachia

DIY Zines, A Legendary 91-Year-Old Diner, And Pandemic-Fueled Homebuying In Appalachia

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll explore stories about places in Appalachia that are drawing visitors and newcomers, sometimes at a cost. We’ll hear from folks who have moved to our region during the pandemic, and we’ll hear how this trend is putting pressure on the housing market here, making it more expensive for people in some parts of Appalachia to buy a home. And West Virginia’s New River Gorge was recently designated as a National Park. That change will likely attract even more visitors — but it will also cut hunting rights in part of the park. Even with these changes, there remain stalwarts across Appalachia, places that hang on even as the world around them transforms. We’ll learn about a restaurant in downtown Roanoke that has remained open more than 90 years.

In This Episode:

Pandemic-Fueled Homebuyers Moving To Appalachia

The pandemic has caused a boom in the housing market across the country — and Appalachia is no exception. People have been spending more time inside their homes these days. This, coupled with an increased popularity in remote work, has had people rethinking their lives in big cities. Some have even bought houses in the region sight unseen.

For the first time ever, every geographic region in West Virginia is experiencing a housing shortage, said Raymond Joseph, CEO of the West Virginia Association of Realtors. He’s been hearing from lots of people in cities who are looking to buy second homes in Appalachia. “They look at this and they say, ‘hey, I can go buy some land, I can have a house… I can ride my four-wheeler, I can hike.’”

Courtesy Bijoulea Finney

Last summer, 34-year-old Bijoulea Finney and her husband Drew left Austin, Texas and bought a 75-acre homestead in southwest Virginia, outside Floyd. They both work remotely, and they wanted to move someplace with more space, and better access to nature.

There simply aren’t enough homes to keep up with demand, and that’s putting extra pressure on people like Olivia Morris. “It is really good for West Virginia, that people are moving here,” said 31-year-old Morris, who wanted to purchase a home in Fayetteville, but was priced out amid the growing popularity of the area.

“But it is also hard, and two things can exist at the same time. And those are the two realities that are existing for me.”

We’ll also hear from some new residents who have moved to Appalachia during the pandemic. We’ll learn what inspired them to leave the cities and move to a rural region.

National Park Designation Has Some Worried

The New River Gorge has long been a destination for tourists and outdoor adventurers. The area was originally given federal protection as a National River in 1978. Late last year, it became West Virginia’s first national park.

The new designation will bring more people to the Gorge, and some new challenges, too. Less land will be open to hunting, while more visitors will place an additional burden on the infrastructure within the park, and in the communities around it.

Ten percent of the New River Gorge will become a national park. Hunters will lose access to this section of land. That’s because hunting is not permitted in national parks. While hunters are losing access to sections of the park, the new park status is expected to improve the local economy. Several rafting outfitters in the Gorge have seen a large rebound in business after COVID-19 restrictions began to lift.

“We were shut down, we had no booking. And then we had record sales, record website visits, phone calls, phones ringing off the hook,” said Haynes Mansfield, marketing director at ACE Adventure Resort.

The park’s new designation puts the New River Gorge in a better position to receive additional funding to aid in the upgrades needed to suit the influx of visitors. Regardless of the changes, the national park designation will likely continue to bring new visitors to the area.

Texas Tavern Celebrates 91st Birthday

While many businesses have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Texas Tavern in downtown Roanoke, Virginia has been a steadfast business in the area. The Star City institution recently celebrated its 91st birthday.

The current owner’s great grandfather, Nick Bullington, opened the restaurant in 1930 after visiting a White Castle. The city began to grow, and with it, the Texas Tavern grew in popularity.

texas tavern credit Fred Sauceman.jpg

The Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Virginia has been in business since 1930 and recently celebrated its 91st birthday. Credit Fred Sauceman/TimesNews

The restaurant and its menu is small, but that’s part of the appeal. Patrons can order chili dogs, small hamburgers, and the Cheese Western — a hamburger with a scrambled egg and the tavern’s signature relish. They’re also known for their “two and a bowl with” which translates to two hamburgers and a bowl of chile beans with onions.

While they’ve had to make adjustments during the pandemic — including switching to take-out only — the restaurant continues to be a staple in the town. Roanoke continues to see new growth in the area, but the Texas Tavern remains the same. And that’s how customers like it.

Towns Face Expensive Flooding Threat

When it comes to major weather events, Appalachia is somewhat protected, thanks to the mountain ranges. While the region doesn’t have to worry about hurricanes and wildfires compared to other regions across the country, flooding and mudslides are a different story.

Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia were recently hit by severe floods — and are still recovering. Across the country, more than 4 million homes are at risk of major flood damage. Scientists say climate change is driving a lot of this flooding. And poorer people stand to lose the most.

NPR’s Rebecca Hersher reported on the recent flooding in Rainelle, West Virginia. Many are still recovering from the flooding in June 2016. Many have since left the area, which has only exacerbated the issues.

West Virginia Praised For Vaccine Rollout

West Virginia’s vaccine rollout has been called “a massive success” by political leaders. Per capita, the state has had one of the highest rates of vaccine distribution in the world. West Virginia was the first in the nation to complete its second round of COVID-19 vaccinations at all nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide.

Compared to the rest of the world, West Virginia’s vaccine rollout is impressive. But when you look beneath the surface, it hasn’t been equitable. Black residents have been vaccinated at a significantly lower rate than white residents. Over the past month, West Virginia has worked to try to get more vaccines to Black residents, and to folks in poorer, more rural regions.

One way to reach more folks is through smaller clinics outside of city centers. Our Appalachia Health News reporter June Leffler has been talking with people who’ve helped organize vaccine clinics in some of the smaller, rural communities in Kanawha County. Faith leaders have helped with outreach, to get to message to their congregations that vaccines are available.

Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing

Also in this episode, Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams interviews Shaun Slifer, a Pittsburgh artist who recently published a book, “So Much to Be Angry About: Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing, 1969-1979.”

The Appalachian Movement Press began in the late 1960s in Huntington, West Virginia, when a group of young people began printing pamphlets, with the aim of helping tell Appalachia’s story from the people, by the people. It was partly an effort to counteract writing by national reporters and writers, who since the late 1800s had promoted the “hillbilly” stereotype, as well as other stereotypes about Appalachia and its inhabitants. Since then, there’s been no shortage in writing about the region and its visitors. What’s rarer is to find Appalachians with a platform to tell their own stories.

“It’s definitely true that I get excited about digging at stories that nobody else has tried to unearth,” Slifer said. “You know that there’s some kind of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ type of challenge to that.”

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music in this episode was provided by John Wyatt, Dinosaur Burps, Kaia Kater and Spencer Elliot.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

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