Beneath the pavement, the highway known as U.S. 219 has a story to tell. Based out of Tucker, Randolph, Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Monroe counties, an AmeriCorps project called "Traveling 219" has been at work since 2011 collecting many of those stories. The project focuses on the recording of tales told by local people who live along U.S. Route 219. The group has conducted more than 100 oral history interviews and used them to produce work for public radio, newspapers and for a new website called Traveling219.com.
Beginning March 6, the project is launching a fund-raising drive on Kickstarter.com to help the project raise enough money to produce more local stories from U.S. 219 through West Virginia and Maryland.
"U.S. 219 runs about 200 miles through West Virginia, so you can imagine that after two years we're just starting to taste what wonderful stories lurk here beneath the pavement," said Roxy Todd, a coordinator with the Traveling 219 Project. She has been with the project since 2010, and together with Americorps and VISTA volunteers Emily Newton, Jessie Wright-Mendoza and Dan Schultz, the group has produced 30 pieces for public radio and has published 15 articles in newspapers across West Virginia.
The project is sponsored by the Pocahontas County Libraries and Pocahontas Communications Cooperative and has received grants from the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Mountain Maryland Heritage Area. The goal is to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter.com by the end of March.
This fund-raiser will also help the group launch a new podcast. The podcast will run for six 30-minute episodes, featuring the music, food and art of modern Appalachian culture in towns like Thomas - where within one block you can listen to music at the Purple Fiddle, visit art galleries, go to a coffee roaster, a brewery and tour a historic opera house.
Prizes for donors to the Kickstarter campaign will include a CD of the best radio stories produced by the Traveling 219 Project, a CD of music from the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys and a hand-signed, original illustration depicting the Punch Jones or "Horseshoe" Diamond, which weighed more than 34 carats and was discovered in Monroe County just miles from U.S. 219.
Stories like the Punch Jones Diamond or the panther tales the group collected in Pocahontas County last year are examples of some of the great finds the Americorps volunteers have unearthed through their interviews. But these stories take time and patience, and Todd explains that listening for stories is a careful exploration. "You have to let people talk, and show people you are genuine."
The volunteers have sat down with people on their porches, in front of fireplaces and at their kitchen tables, microphone in hand or a notepad on the table.
Photos usually cover the coffee table, piles of them scattered like decks of cards. Background sounds are always a part of the story - from a bubbling percolator to the peeping of a box of baby chickens just arrived in the mail.
They've visited Reed's Mill, which still stone grinds heirloom corn and buckwheat. They've documented interviews with people who described making homemade ice cream as a child, with ice from the river and local cream. "The taste was out of this world," remembers Betsy Degges in a story that was aired on West Virginia Public Radio in 2011.
To help support these young Americorps volunteers as they travel US 219, you can visit their Kickstarter page at Kickstarter.com, "Traveling 219: The Seneca Trail." You can also make a donation by sending a check to the Traveling 219 Project, in care of the Friends of the Pocahontas Library, 500 Eighth St., Marlinton, WV 24954.