Matewan is contender for ‘Turn This Town Around’


January 30, 2014


MATEWAN - Matewan is a contender for “Turn This Town Around.”

Perched on the banks of the Tug Fork River and Mate Creek in Mingo County, Matewan was the site of the Battle of Matewan, also known as the Matewan Massacre, between Baldwin-Felts detectives and coal miners. The event inspired the movie “Matewan.” The town also figured prominently in the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud. The small town has flooded 36 times since 1949.

“Matewan is a unique little town, and the town’s people have done a great job of preserving Main Street and historical areas,” said Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails Authority. “It’s also a great connection to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.”

But Lusk says the town could use some assistance, too.

“Matewan needs more entrepreneurs, more capital and vision, people who will make the investments and build up the retail infrastructure to turn those old buildings into a thriving main street,” Lusk said. “The opportunity is there. Thirty-six thousand Hatfield-McCoy trail riders come through the town every year. Matewan just needs a grassroots effort to spur some excitement about entrepreneurs building the retail and lodging infrastructure.”

With the public’s help, two towns will be chosen — one from the northern part of the state and one from the southern part. The two towns selected will become living laboratories. The goal is to help ignite change, to rally the community with a set of goals and things that can be accomplished, to showcase the successes and failures, to identify challenges, and to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The West Virginia Community Development Hub, one of the state’s leaders in the field of community development, will coordinate the effort. The Hub will connect the two communities with training in civic engagement, leadership development, and project management; provide a community performance coach; help them assess their strengths and vulnerabilities; develop a community vision and plan; and link them to technical assistance providers in key areas like civic engagement, the local food movement, community sustainability, and organizational development.

Community revitalization doesn’t just happen, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight — that’s part of the challenge, Lusk said. Historically, community improvement initiatives stall at the implementation stage, he said.

Every community has development plans sitting on the shelf. When plans aren’t implemented and momentum stalls, many concerned community members throw their hands up in frustration and quit, he said. But the most valuable resource isn’t money, he said. It’s people — people who care about their communities, Lusk said. Every community has people who care, but sometimes are overwhelmed by the challenges and don’t know where to start, he said.

The Turn This Town Around revitalization campaign will look at the restoration and repurposing of existing buildings and assess economic resources, employment opportunities, and ways to expand the tax base and keep money circulating in the community.

It will help communities create programs to prevent blight and abandonment, improve livability by attracting businesses and social activities, and foster incubators for entrepreneurship and the arts. It will reach out to local schools, encourage and embrace involvement from the youngest, and in doing so, hope to inspire them to see the state as a place of opportunity.

Visit http://www.wvfocus.com/turn-this-town-around/ to vote for Matewan.