Pipeline work at odds with tourism?

Dear West Virginia Division of Tourism Director and Staff,

I understand that tourism is among our top economic drivers here in West Virginia. As I write this letter, I hear the whistle of the tourist train that runs five days a week.

There are four different trains, two steam, two diesel, just in Randolph and Pocahontas counties. The Potomac Eagle runs out of Hampshire County. Hinton holds a railroad festival and runs a special train in the fall. There may be other tourist trains. Americans love train rides. They represent our past. Our town has at least two major night shows for tourists and several restaurants appreciate the role of visitors in beefing up the bottom line.

I perform Appalachian music for motor coach travelers who come to the Allegheny Highlands. I also work as a step-on guide, traveling on the bus and imparting aspects of history, folklife, geography, botany and more. It has taken years to learn what to share and how. We ride the trains and eat and stay locally, by the busload.

But now the West Virginia-based tour operator who hires us says she cannot book any motor coach tours here next year, because there are not enough hotel rooms. She has been told the pipeline companies have reserved the rooms, and the one hotel that is not letting rooms to pipeliners is taking all the individual overflow. How is this an economic boom? The pipeliners, who have not arrived in large numbers yet, due to opposition from many fronts, are temporary workers.

I live beside a household of pipeliners who have been here the better part of a year and still do not know where the City Park is located and are not connected with the creative life of this town outside of restaurants and bars. They work long hours and shop at chain stores. They have lived in so many towns and states, too many to plant roots or look hard at where they are. This is understandable. This is not our economic future.

With the demise of the coal industry, many of us are busy creating sustainable economic development for our communities. We are part of the Mountain Arts District, an online registry of regional artists and supporters that features an online calendar, and the Mountain Music Trail, with venues and musicians interested in performing along West Virginia Route 219. We have created artistic, entrepreneurial and agricultural ventures in our region, opportunities for locals and visitors alike.

And yet, will the motor coaches return when the rooms free up? The tour operator that hires me will likely fold up her business rather than wait it out. This was her most lucrative region on the state. In the meantime, she is marketing a tour to Germany. A motor coach holds more than 50 people. This week she will move two of them through our area, making stops in Cass, Durbin, Grafton, Weston, Elkins and Philippi, paying for food, music and train rides. The visitors may shop on their own as well. And they will bring home memories and pass on the good word about travel, and even residence, in West Virginia.

The Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines are now facing grave threats to completion due to environmental issues. Meanwhile, community efforts at downtown revitalization are soaring. Should the tourism agencies launch a legal case to confront the threats to our long-term economy?

It’s time for the Division of Tourism, convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, main street efforts, and other entities to state the case that we need sustainable long-term economic development that will preserve clean water and wilderness, and enhance our efforts to repopulate the great state of West Virginia.

Carrie Nobel Kline

Elkins

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