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Says farming won’t help save us, but showing visitors our history will




The top of Pine Mountain offers views second to none and would help bring tourists to Letcher County if properly marketed, says letter writer Helen Ayers, a former Letcher County resident. (Photo courtesy Debbie Hodson)

The top of Pine Mountain offers views second to none and would help bring tourists to Letcher County if properly marketed, says letter writer Helen Ayers, a former Letcher County resident. (Photo courtesy Debbie Hodson)

To the Editor:

I read the recent report in The Mountain Eagle about the local folks trying to bring “farms” to the area and nearly fell off my chair laughing. There is not enough “farm ground” in the entire county to even suggest such farms. The only “farm” I can think of that might work down there is hydroponic gardening. You could flood the markets with fresh produce, year around. This idea is a good one and I have seen one in operation where I now live.

I have been making notations of things that I think would be benefi- cial to your county — and my former county — and boost your economy into the stratosphere.

Why not make Letcher County a vacation destination county? You already have a good deal of nice ideas already in place. You just need to expand on them.

You should build on what you know and others love about Letcher County. Do things and offer entertainment and knowledge that will let others know why we love our county.

For instance, have a working coalmine that people can enter and see and feel what it would have been like in the olden days. My cousin on Cowan took a friend and me to a mine once and it was very informative and interesting. Much of the museum feel was already in place, but I cannot remember the name of the town we were visiting. That would be one location for visitors to come and learn about our vanishing way of life.

Here are some other ideas that could work:

• Build a huge lodge and conference center on top of Pine Mountain, perhaps like the Pine Mountain Grill only much larger. Add a swimming pool, a long water slide, smaller cabin rentals, etc., to this site. Have the kitchen manned with Kentucky cooks — the best in the world in my opinion.

• Build the longest chairlift in existence, maybe from Cowan to the top of Pine Mountain where the lodge would be located. If one could look down and see a black bear or elk ambling up the mountain below them, so much the better.

• The top of Pine Mountain could be your gold mine. The many things that could add to this attraction include a replica of an old-time church, many of which are still in existence today. Have a one- or two-room school with teachers in period costumes instructing students in the three R’s; have a music hall with, again, period costumes and invite the public to participate in square dancing lessons. In the music hall you would have both mountain music and bluegrass music. Another theater could offer plays re-enacting a family feud. You could easily build a wedding chapel for those wishing to wed while they are in the mountains.

• There could be an open area where hominy making, lye soap making, and lard rendering is shown and demonstrated.

• An area separate from all these attractions could house carnival rides that would entertain the children while their parents are busy enjoying the adult events.

• The demonstration of an actual operating moonshine still with maybe a timeout for the revenuers to blast their way into the area is another must-have event. Sell tiny bottles of moonshine to the public if that is now allowed in your county.

• You need to build a typical oldtime cabin complete with calendar art hanging on the wall, a water bucket with a dipper in it, a wood cook stove in one corner, fly tacky paper hanging from the ceiling, and a bed made up with a beautiful quilt for a cover. On the porch would be two rocking chairs with an old man and woman sitting in them. The man could be whittling something or could hold a Kentucky long rifle (wooden replica of course) across his legs. The woman could be sewing quilt square pieces. The cabin must be absolutely clean and organized since all the women in that time frame were usually excellent housekeepers.

• Basket weaving from various types of products could be shown and sold. Each weaver would work with just one medium so you were not overdoing it. Also, quilting bees should be held and show some of the “story” quilts that are so beautiful.

• Other shops on top of Pine Mountain could feature jewelry making; pottery making; glass blowing; stained glass, and a leather shop.

Whatever is built on top of the mountain would be available for sale in each of the gift shops up there and must be made in Letcher County or its environs. There would need to be interactive machines you could deposit your quarters into and learn about what you are seeing made and done. These machines should be just everywhere up on the top of the mountain.

• Back down on the lower levels in the mountain valleys you should build a working gristmill and sell its products. You could show sorghum making using a mule to turn the wheels to squeeze the sorghum and then have a stir-off with a square dance or a wedding, etc. A community such as Ice would be ideal for this.

• You might have chainsaw art and the making of black bear silhouettes to make use of your notoriety of bears. Play up every resource you can think of and charge the visitors to enjoy them.

• No education about eastern Kentucky would be complete without showing a swinging bridge and a double log bridge over a small stream of water. This used to be my bugaboo when I was a very young child down there. To go along with that you could have a water gate and explain how it is constructed and what it does.

Every area in the county should be involved and there should be gift shops behind every tree to sell the items that were constructed in the various exhibits. I feel this type of enterprise would add far more to the economy and employ far more former miners than trying to turn a mountainside into a “farm.” Let’s “farm” what we know works.

You would need several people to just empty the interactive machines during the day which brings up another idea. Someone would have to sew the small durable, re-usable bags to hold all the quarters the visitors would be spending during their stay. That would be a good job for some of the senior citizens to raise funds for their centers.

And last, but not least, there should be golf carts, Segways and electric wheel chairs available for rent all over the county so old people like me could get to all this wonderful entertainment.

When we go on vacation we plan to have a good time and we expect our entertainment to cost us some money. Why shouldn’t the citizens of Letcher County take advantage of some of these ideas and run with them? This type of venture would not only bring jobs to hundreds of your residents, but the income from the sale of the produce and entertainments would add greatly to your tax base. Think about this and see what you can add to it.

HELEN AYERS
Freetown, Ind.


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