“I made the choice to be a coal miner,” he said. “I probably could have gone to college and pursued a different career, but I didn’t.
“I don’t know anything else,” he added.
Magoffin County Executive Judge Matt Wireman sees tremendous potential in his community. The county has a new industrial park, tourist potential and broadband access. With the help of the federal government, he thinks things could change.
“I want to see action, I want to see things that are tangible,” Mr. Wireman said. “They can talk, talk and talk. Let’s see the things we can see, feel and touch. “
Of course, not everyone waits for Washington to come to the rescue, or even thinks it’s the best approach. Gwen Johnson, who operates a bakery near Neon, said outside help was often misplaced and money mismanaged. Although she would like federal attention, she is wary.
The bakery, she said, shows how local people can improve their own communities in their own way: by providing fresh bread and a place to meet, and by providing employment for people recovering from drug addiction.
“I’m just sick and tired of strangers saying what we need,” Ms. Johnson said. “Don’t plan what we need thinking you know, because you don’t know.”
Rebecca Shelton, director of policy and organization at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg, supports a program to employ former miners in the reclamation of abandoned coal mines. Old mines, if left behind, can be dangerous for residents living nearby and destructive to the environment. As climate change leads to more extreme weather conditions, the risks of landslides, landslides and other dangers to public safety will increase.