The rising cost of gasoline is hitting everyone’s wallets pretty hard these days. Locally, petrol is hovering around $5 per gallon on average. Diesel is … well diesel is another story altogether. Prices for it have gone through the roof, exceeding $6 per gallon.

Prices in this stratospheric range will have serious ramifications on every aspect of our lives from the initial price at the pump to the cost of hamburger and toilet paper at the grocery stores. Yet, in Mingo County those rising prices may have even a more serious impact on our local economy than we realize.

For years now, we have been struggling to resuscitate a coal-based economy with that industry almost flat lining in the Southern Coalfields. Slowly, but steadily, we have turned to tourism as a new revenue stream. Mingo County, along with southwestern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, has many types of tourism opportunities to offer including our history, unique culture and pure mountain hospitality. It is adventure tourism, however, that has catapulted us to the national level.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails has grown over the past two decades and has gained an unparalleled reputation across the United States. The Trail System and events such as National TrailFest and Dirt Days have even attracted international visitors. Many ancillary industries are cropping up to support the increased tourism efforts including a myriad of lodging facilities such as cabins, campgrounds and resorts as well as several new restaurants, rental companies, outfitters and guide services.

Now, the inflation of 2022 has slapped us straight across the face. The hit is direct and is aimed where it will hurt us the most — our pocketbooks. As prices for everyday items have risen steadily since the supply chain interruptions created by the pandemic, we have managed to survive and keep things running. However, the high cost of gas may soon see our tanks running towards empty.

Officials with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are already reporting a decline in trail pass sales and are anticipating even more. They associate these reductions directly with the cost of gas.

“Fuel for our riders is a larger cost for their vacation than it is for most people … it has more bearing because they are towing,” HMT Executive Director Jeff Lusk said. “When you tow your gas mileage sometimes gets cut by a third, even sometimes as much as a half, depending on what you’re towing. I believe until we can get gas prices back in control, and of course the accompanying inflation, not only will we see a downward trend continue in the sale of permits but lodging and all the other downstream businesses are also going to be dramatically affected.

With our new tourism economy at risk, we must learn from our past. We previously built an economy solely on one industry — coal. EPA regulations and social concerns about the global impacts the use of fossil fuels have on our environment have caused coal and its related industries to cease and desist. As jobs from the mines, the railroad, the trucking companies, the equipment dealers vanished one by one, so did our retail outlets, our car dealerships, our banking strength, our professional services and our livelihoods.

Our economy cannot be reliant and dependent on only one industry again, whether it be coal or tourism or widgets and gadgets. We need to develop an economy that is not so laser focused. We need to cast a wide net in our recruiting efforts. We have a few coal-related jobs left and tourism is still strong considering the current economic conditions. However, economic diversity means we must have multi-faceted industries so when one industry lags others will still be there to support us.

Mingo County is making drastic strides in developing a new economic base. Let us just not be as naive as we were in the past. If we are, we will find ourselves sitting on the side of the road with empty tanks once again.

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