The Margin: 7 Causes to Have fun West Virginia (It doesn’t matter what Bette Midler says)

Some “want us all to be like their state of West Virginia. Poor, illiterate and drained, ”Midler tweeted on Monday.

The actress regretted her comments in a later tweet. “I apologize to the good people at WVA for my last outbreak. I only see red, ”she said.

Midler was hardly the only one who beat up the state recently or in the past and described it in such backward terms. And one could argue that the critics are right. For example, West Virginia ranks highest in the nation in terms of drug overdose deaths. And in many key categories, like the quality of education and health care, it ranks near the bottom end, according to the annual US News & World Report survey of the states. (Overall, the publication ranks the state # 47 in the nation.)

Still, locals and those who simply know and love West Virginia complain that critics often overlook the bigger picture.

“A lot of people who have never been around have ideas about what the people and places are like in the state. Many of these ideas are wrong, ”said author Kristina Gaddy on the Culture Trip website.

How wrong? We looked at some key facts and data to find examples of how the state stands out – in a good way. Here are seven examples.

Its natural beauty

West Virginia is known as the Mountain State for a reason: it's the only state that's entirely within the Appalachian Mountains. And it's home to one of America's newest national parks: the New River Gorge, which received the award in late 2020 with the passage of the COVID-19 Relief Act. Sen. Manchin himself sang the praises of the park back then. "The New River Gorge is truly one of West Virginia's most treasured playgrounds," he said in a statement.

Its booming tourism industry

Partly because of its natural beauty, West Virginia draws more than its share of visitors – more than 65 million annually, according to the latest report from the State Tourism Bureau. (And they spend a lot of money, with traveler spending hitting $ 4.6 billion.) The numbers don't put West Virginia at the top of the states – California draws 286 million visitors, for example – but it's on par Let's say New York City, which welcomed a record 66.6 million visitors in 2019. Conde Nast Traveler even named West Virginia on its list of 22 Best Places to Visit in 2022.

The Toyota plant in Buffalo, West Virginia

Stephen Zenner / Getty Images

Its economic opportunities

Heads of state pride themselves on making West Virginia a welcoming place for business, especially as it looks beyond the local, vital coal industry. (Employment in coal mining has decreased by around 50% since 2012, according to Statista.) And there is evidence that they may be achieving their goals. In its annual poll, U.S. News & World West Virginia ranked 18th in the Opportunity category. Indeed, the state has grown in a number of industries, including aerospace and automotive. It has also established itself as a place for teleworkers to call home, and even offers $ 12,000 in cash incentives for people considering moving to the state (plus free co-working spaces).

It’s history

Yes, a lot of cool and interesting things happened in West Virginia. The state can claim many unusual firsts, from the country's first free rural postal service to the first brick street (or at least the first such street with a patented construction method). The state is home to one of the oldest – if not the oldest – five-and-dime stores in the country, Berdine's, which has been in business since 1908. And it's a "secular" state: West Virginia has a number of cities named after cities around the world, including Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Geneva, and Shanghai. Perhaps strangest, West Virginia has a town called "Odd".

Its art and culture

Because of its mountain roots, West Virginia has a thriving scene when it comes to folk-related things. Check out the Tamarack Marketplace, which opened in 1996 as a symbol of Appalachian pride and describes itself as an exhibition of the works of more than 2,800 artists and artisans from across the state. Or think of Mountain Stage, a national radio program produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting that features experienced and emerging music artists, particularly folk, blues and country musicians. West Virginia also has its own Carnegie Hall – literally. It's a Lewisburg venue that was built in 1902, largely with funding from Andrew Carnegie.

Squirrel: It Might Be Whatever for Dinner in West Virginia

Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images

It is food

Make all jokes about the roadkill kitchen. West Virginia has some real culinary references. The state's signature foods range from hot pepper rolls – it was the classic miners' lunch – to buckwheat pancakes. West Virginia also gave us the Golden Delicious apple (and in fact, it's the state fruit). Oh, and if roadkill is your thing, the state is famous for a roadkill cook-off event that celebrates specialties like squirrel sauce over biscuits and teriyaki marinated bear.

His famous people

West Virginia has many notable native sons and daughters, or known current and former residents. Athletes include baseball star George Brett and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Performers and entertainers include actress Jennifer Garner and country singer Brad Paisley. Among the titans of the industry is the former Cisco
Managing Director John T. Chambers. Finally, among politicians there is the late Robert Byrd, who at 51 was the longest-serving senator in US history. In contrast, Joe Manchin only served in the Chamber for 11 years.

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