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Area needs to embrace vision beyond

Appalachian Botanical is a West Virginia company that cultivates lavender on a former surface mine.

As an article in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal reported, Appalachian produces essential oils and other scented products — all part of a growing effort in that state to reimagine an economy not dependent on coal.

Other former surface mines in West Virginia are producing lettuce and tilapia, thanks to a solar-installation company that uses aquaponics technology.

The state is finally embracing the realization that coal mining isn’t likely to return to past levels and that the state must diversify its economy. U.S. coal production fell to

535 million tons in 2020, the lowest production level since 1965.

That is West Virginia. Now, shift to Blair County and the other five counties of the Southern Alleghenies region — Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, Huntingdon and Fulton — but regarding another “playing field,” this one being the important tourism industry on which this region is so dependent.

The entire Southern Alleghenies — indeed, areas beyond in the Keystone State — need to take notice to what is happening regarding the Horseshoe Curve and Railroaders Memorial Museum to maintain and enhance interest in them, even among people who have visited the sites once or twice, or perhaps numerous times.

People involved in other tourist venues need to likewise brainstorm ways that they can build new interest and enthusiasm around core attractions that have existed for years, decades, even a century or longer.

As an article in last Monday’s Mirror pointed out, there is a broad plan to reinvigorate the famous curve and the museum.

The article summed up the effort:

“A slate of new events have been planned for this fall at the museum’s Ninth Street location and at the Horseshoe Curve. The plans reflect the museum’s investment in staff with diverse skill sets, museum degrees, a shared love of railroad history and a passion for preserving railroaders’ legacy.”

As the article noted, the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark will feature 19th century interpreters who will “return to life” the physical effort that was necessary to allow trains to traverse the Allegheny Ridge and, in the process, revolutionize travel and play an important part in this nation’s world war-supplies production efforts.

Meanwhile, for the museum, the plan is to emphasize “preserving, interpreting and memorializing the legacy of the railroaders who built our community.”

Last Monday’s Mirror article was right-on in observing that local residents often overlook the museum and the importance of the Horseshoe Curve.

If plans for the two sites are realized as currently envisioned, the new opportunities that will be available, as well as those not yet on the proverbial drawing board, will remain a continuing magnet for visitors from near and far, going forward.

The same opportunities will exist for other Southern Alleghenies tourist sites, if they find new ways to make those sites “want-to-visits.”

For West Virginia, long mostly dependent on coal production, the challenge involves seeking non-coal opportunities. While this region constantly must be on the lookout for new businesses and industries as well, the expanded vision regarding tourism opportunities here is a seed for dynamic possibilities.

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