By Molly Moore
When more than 1,700 citizens gathered in Pikeville, Ky., to discuss ideas for regional economic revitalization at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit last December, the crowd was diverse.
In attendance were concerned citizens, grassroots organizers and many of the state’s government and business leaders.
During breakout sessions, participants discussed topics such as jobs, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, tourism and regional identity. Common themes included the need to invest coal severance taxes back into coal-impacted communities and to encourage youth to remain in the region.
Progress was quick regarding one of the most popular ideas at the summit: the expansion of broadband internet in under-served eastern Kentucky. In January, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced $100 million in federal, state and private funding to bolster the region’s internet access. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that it could take three years to install fiber optic infrastructure, the first phase of the project.
Another project touted by politicians at the summit was the expansion of the Mountain Parkway between central Kentucky and Pikeville to four lanes, a $750 million, six-year project that Gov. Beshear has called on lawmakers to approve.
Also in January, President Obama declared that eastern Kentucky would be one of five new “promise zones” where the area will be given special preference for federal grant dollars through existing programs. The initiative also aims to diversify the economy by increasing support for education, leadership and job training and establishing a revolving loan fund for small businesses.
To learn more about the SOAR Summit, read the report at governor.ky.gov/Documents/SOAR-report.pdf.
Recent Conservation Gains in Appalachia
By Meredith Warfield
With the Southeastern Cave Conservancy’s recent 75-acre land acquisition, two caves that were formerly off-limits have now been opened to the public in eastern Tennessee. The Run to the Mill Cave Preserve includes a pit nearly 170 feet deep and the largest population of endangered Indiana Bats in the state. Preliminary studies have revealed a likely presence of white-nose syndrome — an infection that has wiped out roughly 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. By managing the property, researchers hope to contain this disease and maintain local ecosystem health.
A 21-acre addition to the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia will ensure protection of the Soque River, a critical tributary to Atlanta’s primary drinking water source. The Soque River is also home to a significant population of brook trout, Georgia’s only native species of trout. With the Trust for Public Land’s purchase, the public will have use of the fishing waters as well as easier access to thousands of surrounding acres of national forest.