Tuesday, March 22, 2016

50 years later rural-urban divide remains in Va. lake community between locals and urban migrants

Smith Mountain Lake, created 50 years ago by Appalachian Power Co. to generate electricity, has turned rural farmland into lucrative waterfront property but has also driven a wedge between rural Southern locals and Northern migrant "lake people," Casey Fabris reports for The Roanoke Times. "Despite the benefits that accompanied the lake—the two magisterial districts including the lake provide nearly 60 percent of the county’s real estate tax revenue, a number touted by many making the case for the lake—some county residents haven’t taken kindly to the arrival of new neighbors. The lake has changed the makeup of Franklin County, with newcomers—many of them retirees from areas like Northern Virginia, New York and New Jersey—settling in the South." (Smith Mountain Lake map)

Even 50 years later a divide remains, Fabris writes. Tim Tatum, Blue Ridge District Supervisor, told him, "It’s sort of like the old saying, if you come here and want to become one of us, more power to you. If you come here and want to change us, pack your bags. You know, you come here and you want to become part of Franklin County—Franklin County is a great place to live—but don’t come here thinking you’re going to change us. Because we think we’ve got it right.”

Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, told Fabris, “If you were to just walk around the lake and say, ‘Where are you from?’—you’re just going to be amazed at how few people say, ‘Oh, I was born and raised here in Franklin County.’ That is the anomaly.” Gardner, a native New Yorker, said "there were times when she’d offer her hand to someone and that person would decline to shake it."

Lake resident Tom Tanner said locals think of the lake residents as “snobby rich people,” Fabris writes. But Tanner, who said it's like there are two counties in Franklin County, argues that lake residents "fund major county projects as well as a school system that many lake residents, as retirees with grown children, don’t use."

One problem is that rural natives fear outsiders might be inclined to try to change the rural lifestyle in Franklin County, Fabris writes. "Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson said he’s not bothered by growth and development at the lake. What does bother him are those who move to the area because they want something different and then end up trying to make it exactly like the place they left behind." He told Fabris, “You’re moving into the country. There’s not a store on every corner; there’s not a fire station on every corner; there’s not a police car on every corner.” Many county residents fell the same way, saying "growth and development at the lake is fine—as long as it stays at the lake. They don’t want subdivisions and shopping centers popping up in their back yards." (Read more)

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