There’s something terribly wrong with these images. It isn’t just the presence of litter, but that trashing our county has become widespread and commonplace. Roadsides throughout the county are full of disposable litter, mostly fast food containers and beverage bottles. Our waterways have trash caught along the stream banks. The sad irony is that we are looking to tourism to provide a much needed boost to our struggling local economy. What snapshot are we presenting to the eyes of tourists?
That our special places in Letcher County are trashed and degraded is a tragedy in so many ways. Bad Branch State Nature Preserve, Fishpond Lake, and the Little Shepherd Trail are promoted as tourism destinations by the county. These places are dear to the hearts of many, and we take our friends and relatives to see these places when they visit. We drive them to the overlook on top of Pine Mountain to marvel at the stunning view. These places are the best of Letcher County. Why on earth do they look like this?
We might dismissively shrug our shoulders when we see litter, spray paint, burned woodlands, and trails eroded by misuse, but how will visitors see it? How will they see us for allowing these things to happen?
Our region is struggling to find ways to diversify the economy. Tourism has never been taken seriously in southeastern Kentucky, but now the hopes of many are being pinned on the idea that tourists can help bring much needed dollars to boost local economies.
As the southeastern Kentucky region begins to package itself as a tourist destination, each county will need to develop, promote, and maintain attractions to entice travelers to spend some time and dollars in our small local communities. Nature lovers and hikers who come here to hike in a state nature preserve or drive the crest of Pine Mountain won’t have our blind eyes and indifferent attitudes, and they won’t be back. Nor will their dollars.
If we are going to promote our county for outdoor recreation, we need to educate ourselves about what is special and unique about our natural areas, because that is what nature lovers and tourists will come to see. We need to learn these things so we know how to protect them; they are so easily damaged or destroyed.
Many people in the county have no idea what exists right here in our own back yards. Pine Mountain itself is an ecological treasure; we all need to understand the fragile diversity found on our mountain and jealously guard it against those who would trash it and degrade it.
What, if anything, are we going to do about the litter problem? Aggressive education? Aggressive fining of those who pollute and degrade? Carry garbage bags in our cars and pick up trash whenever we see it? It will be difficult and unpopular to change the culture of pollution, with which this region has struggled for decades. It is unfathomable as to why our people will throw trash everywhere and deliberately degrade natural resources, but if we want tourists to see a pleasing image of Letcher County, and potential business investors to view us favorably, we better do something before they arrive.
When she’s not working with the Letcher County School System’s Family Resources department, Jennifer Honeycutt can often be found out taking scenic photographs of Letcher County. During her travels across the county she has noticed our litter problem is growing during a time in which the stakes couldn’t be higher.