A gateway to New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, Mount Hope, WV has been struggling to build tourism assets for decades in their post-extraction economy. However, a lack of knowledge, funding, and general capacity has led the region’s offerings to stagnate for some time. When a number of dedicated community members and nonprofit employees formed a group for the 2017 Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative workshop in Ringgold, GA, the town’s landscape began to change.
The workshop provided the team with the time and space necessary to collaborate and think about the direction which they wanted to move Mount Hope’s young tourist economy. Although any workshop might have provided these resources, team member Andrew Davis noted that the depth and variety of speakers were a critical resource in educating their team. As they began to plan during the workshop, each team member’s strengths came out, and an integrative vision for a project started to take form. Using the abilities and connections of a health-oriented nonprofit representative, a passionate local artist, town leadership, and historic preservationists, the team conceived of a Historic Walking Tour which would lead visitors and residents alike through an artistic and educational view of Mount Hope, taking advantage of its historic buildings and budding artists.
Receiving a $7,000 seed grant shortly after the workshop, the team began work on the planned walk, collaborating closely and meeting often. The Historic Walking Tour sought to revitalize the artistic vision of Mount Hope’s downtown and attract business and investment in the area. One piece of the seed grant project included the commissioning of four paintings, which were placed in empty storefronts to showcase the town’s potential. Most notably, the seed grant allowed the team to commission West Virginian artists Ian Bode and Brian Pickens to produce a large mural, “The Mount Hope Phoenix Wall,” based on community input. The mural depicts Mount Hope’s history, and features a phoenix, symbolizing the town’s growing potential in the coming years, and its recovery from the exit of extraction.
This potential is already coming to light, with the town seeing a number of incredible developments in recent years. The National Coal Heritage Area Authority is in the process of moving its headquarters to Mount Hope, which helps to solidify the town’s image as a historic and symbolic hub for post-coal towns and cities in West Virginia. On top of this, New River Gorge Preserve was named a National Park at the start of 2021, which has greatly increased visitation to the area in general.
The team consider building the walk to be an important first step in establishing Mount Hope as a desirable place to develop in. Because of a general lack of capacity, attracting tenants and employers is one of the town’s biggest priorities. Building appreciation from an inside and outside perspective was one of the guiding principles behind the walk, and it seems that it has been quite successful. With this growing appreciation, Mount Hope is finding its way as an expanding gateway town, bursting with potential.