“I made the choice to be a coal miner,” he said. “I could have probably gone to college and pursued a different career, but I didn’t.”
“I don’t know nothing else,” he added.
Matt Wireman, the county judge executive of Magoffin County, sees considerable potential in his community. The county has a new industrial park, tourism potential and broadband access. With the right nudge from the federal government, he thinks things could turn around.
“I want to see action, I want to see things that are tangible,” Mr. Wireman said. “They can talk and talk and talk. Let’s see things we can see, feel and touch.”
Of course, not everyone is waiting for Washington to come to the rescue, or even thinks it is the best approach. Gwen Johnson, who operates a bakery near Neon, said outside help was often misplaced and the money mishandled. While she would welcome some federal attention, she is wary.
The bakery, she said, shows how local people can better their own communities their own way: providing fresh bread and a place to gather, and offering employment to people recovering from drug addiction.
“I’m just sick and tired of outsiders saying what we need,” Ms. Johnson said. “Don’t plan out what we need thinking you know, because you don’t know.”
Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, in Whitesburg, supports a program to employ former miners in the reclaiming of abandoned coal mines. Old mines, if left to lie, can be dangerous for residents living near them and environmentally destructive. As climate change brings more extreme weather, the chances of mudslides, rockslides and other public safety hazards will increase.