Mountain Media

Ada Smith and the Stay Project

Seeing Appalachia Not Just as Birthplace, but Home

By Anna Oakes

Ada Smith, 23, is working to make Appalachia a place where youth want to stay.

As a young adult, Ada Smith realized that few groups were focused on organizing youth in Appalachia—much fewer than in other regions.

Smith, 23, is the daughter of two filmmakers who have worked with Appalshop, a multimedia arts and cultural organization located in Whitesburg, Ky., striving to develop effective ways to use media to address the complex issues facing central Appalachia.

“My parents really, really instilled in me at a very young age to be very, very proud of where I came from,” Smith said.

Smith attended the 2007 Appalachian Studies Association conference, which was making a conscious effort to bring youth to the table—and learned about the challenges of the youth exodus from Appalachia and the reasons for it; a lack of good educational and economic opportunities and health and safety hazards, especially in the coalfields. As a result, Smith, along with Willa Johnson, Brittany Hunsaker and Joe Tolbert, decided to form The Stay Project.

According to its mission statement, The Stay Project “is a diverse regional network of young people ages 14 to 25 working together to create, advocate for and participate in safe, engaging and inclusive communities throughout Appalachia. We promote critical education and leadership development so that emerging Appalachian leaders can find environmentally and economically sustainable ways to remain in our home mountain communities.”

In addition to her work on The Stay Project, Smith was recently hired as the operations coordinator for the Appalachian Media Institute, an Appalshop program that trains central Appalachian youth how to use media to ask and answer critical questions about themselves and their communities.

For more information, email

Margaret Morley

Photographs for the Ages

Written by Alli Marshall

Though she grew up in Iowa, the mountains of Western N.C. held a special in the heart of writer, photographer, biologist and educator Margaret Warner Morley.

Among the 20 books she authored is The Carolina Mountains, originally published in 1913 by Houghton Mifflin. Travelogues, historic research and biological observations were paired with Morley’s own photographs, collected during her travels through the mountains by train, horse and on foot (all of this before many roads were built, let alone hiking trails, and Morley’s adventures were carried out in Victorian attire).

The Carolina Mountains, reprinted by Asheville-based Bright Mountain Books in 2006, endures as a reliable guidebook to the area.

Ashley Judd

Outspoken on the Ages

Written by Sandra Diaz

Ashley Judd, whose family hails from eastern Kentucky, is a dedicated humanitarian and environmental advocate.

She has traveled the world to work on issues of poverty and social injustice, and recently focused her attention on an issue that strikes closer to home: the destruction of the Appalachian mountains through mountaintop removal mining.

She has suffered ridicule due to her outspokenness on the issue- but she stated that it, “absolutely pale(s) in comparison to what it is like for those who live every day in the war zone created by mountaintop removal mining in our beloved communities and mountains.”

Mari-Lynn Evans and Jamie Ross

Two films broaden awareness

By Linda Coutant

In 2009, two women filmmakers broadened awareness of environmental issues in Appalachia. Asheville, N.C., resident Jamie Ross’ four-hour series, Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, aired on PBS, reminding viewers that humanity is part of the environment, not separate from it. The series explored the intersection of natural and human histories by focusing on the region’s geological formation, clash of European and Native cultures, industrial age and the search for identity in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Also in 2009, West Virginia native Mari-Lynn Evans and Sierra Club Productions released Coal Country, a film examining the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining on Appalachia’s citizens and economy. It included segments with Judy Bonds, who for years ardently spoke out against mountaintop removal and passed away in January 2011. Coal Country first aired on The Discovery Network’s Planet Green channel in November 2010 and is now available to public audiences.

Collaboration Key for Women of Appalachia Conference

The Women of Appalachia Conference will return this fall to celebrate the wonderful and awe-inspiring women of Appalachia.

Through storytelling, poetry, art and cooking, the conference celebrates the contributions of Appalachian women engaging multi-disciplinary conversation that spurs additional research and scholarship.

The conference will be held in October 2011 at Ohio University Zanesville.

Contact Christine Shaw via email at or phone at 740-588-1565 for updates on the planning.

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