Forward Thinkers Move Back to the Land

by Rachael Goss

When we think about the 1960s, certain iconic images pop up. From flower children and festivals to fierce protests and racial unrest, the decade was marked by a turbulent change in the social and political fabrics of our nation.

In the late 1960s, many idealistic young Americans turned away from the mainstream and sought refuge in a rustic lifestyle. After an issue of The Mother Earth News waxed poetic about the beauty and value of land in West Virginia, many literally took to the hills.

Back-to-the-landers came to nearly every county in the state. Lincoln, Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties drew particularly large crowds. While hostilities did arise between the old and new West Virginians, many of the state’s newest citizens found that the values associated with their new life on the land–hard work, thrift, community and simple pleasures–were also held by their deeply rooted neighbors.

Many new residents took keenly to traditional crafts and music, establishing a greater bond with the rich Appalachian culture. In fact, the back-to-the-land movement in West Virginia sparked a renaissance for traditional mountain music and art forms.

As elders passed on their knowledge to newcomers, West Virginian arts and crafts traditions were strengthened and revitalized. The movement sparked the creation of Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia, a state attraction that commemorates the state’s cultural heritage and unique history by showcasing traditional arts, crafts and foods.

The simple living crusade forever changed the face of West Virginia. The environmental values espoused by The Green Revolution magazine, published by an intentional community near Hamlin, spoke to a common thread of activism shared by many of the newcomers.

In the 1970s, as the national conscience became more in-tune with a growing environmental movement, West Virginia saw many of its natives and newcomers joining forces to speak up for the land and culture they so valued.

Ultimately, the rural relocation trend served to highlight many of West Virginia’s natural and cultural treasures. In addition to advocating a simpler, more hands-on lifestyle, the new arrivals brought attention to Appalachia’s vast litany of art forms and heritage crafts, creating a niche market for tourists and Americans outside of the region to appreciate.

By celebrating our region’s heritage, vistas and landscapes, we too can see what the back-to-the-landers seized on forty-odd years ago: that Appalachia is a natural and cultural treasure worthy of preservation.

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