War
COMMUNITY CASE STUDY

In War, community members are redefining the future of Southern WV.

War is the southern-most city in West Virginia. Located in McDowell County, the 760 residents of War create a close-knit community brimming with hometown pride. McDowell County has a rich history, notable for its important role in the coal industry of the 20th century and for being home to the Rocket Boys, who attended and came to fame at Big Creek High School, which was located in War until 2010. 

While War remains proud of their history, community members are looking towards a bright future with new opportunities. Now, the community sees fewer coal trains breezing through town, but a lot more ATVs–a major asset of the changing economy.

Rural Community Building Best Practices

West Virginia communities of all sizes are engaging in innovative work. Many of these communities exemplify our Rural Community Building Best Practices, guideposts identified through evidence-based research processes. By looking to these communities as models, we can work together to replicate small wins and major successes.

The community of War exemplifies:

Leveraging financial opportunities

Many Southern West Virginia communities are working to diversify their economies and are taking an inventory of what they already have in their backyards. In Southern West Virginia, there is no shortage of space for mountain recreation. One of War’s greatest assets is its connection to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. Located throughout multiple counties in the Southern West Virginia, the trail system is one of the largest off-road vehicle trail systems in the world with nearly 900 miles of off-road adventure riding for ATVs, UTVs, ORVs, and off-road motorcycles. These trails are the biggest tourism draw for McDowell County.

Any given Saturday, you see fifty to sixty riders. Sometimes up to one hundred.

Throughout West Virginia, many communities are turning towards recreational tourism to help build their economies, and the growth of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System proves that this is a lucrative move. In 2020, the trail system sold nearly 65,000 trail permits, the highest number of annual permits ever sold. In fact, 2020 marked the system’s 20th consecutive year of growth in ridership counts. Even after an eight-week closure as a preventative public health measure related to COVID-19, permit sales in 2020 still saw a 15% increase over 2019 sales. More than 80% of total sales were to non-West Virginia residents with both resident and non-resident ridership growing for the 2020 year. In addition to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, unregulated trails, known as the Outlaw Trails, also cut through War and draw in tourists seeking a challenging ride. These trails are located on private property and are maintained by property owners. And with 80% of riders visiting from out of state, the cabins at nearby Berwind Lake are a popular spot for a weekend getaway.

While recreational tourism becomes more important to War’s economy each year, the City’s representatives are working to stretch their budget as far as possible. The recreation economy in War is relatively new–their the Warrior Trail has only been open since 2018. The City is increasing its efforts to improve local roads to encourage travel in the area, as well as increasing beautification efforts so passersby are more likely to want to stop. The City has taken a do-it-yourself approach to improving their community, doing as much as possible themselves. The mayor himself, a certified Electrician, is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work alongside his small team of City employees.

They take an inch and manage to make a mile.

Utilizing a system of support

The City of War has built its relationship to its community members on trust. Mayor Beavers, City Manager, Jared Mitchell, and the City’s Office Manager, Debbie Dority, work to ensure that community members don’t lack basic needs, like food, water, and electricity. The City has partnered with local churches, like God’s Grace Ministry, to deliver boxes of groceries to community members in need and with limited access to transportation. During the midst of the pandemic, when schools were fully shut down, the City partnered with the local fire department to deliver bag lunches to students and residents, and city leaders were committed to ensuring that nothing would go to waste. The small staff working for the City of War recognize and seize every opportunity that may improve the quality of life of the community’s residents–their friends and neighbors. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. If I had known how nice and friendly people are, I would have been here a long time ago,” said Dority. 

In addition to providing food security, the City is committed to helping residents who are struggling to pay for basic living expenses. The City provides in-house utility assistance and payment plans for low-income families who are behind on their bills to help ease financial burdens. These types of services are laying the foundation for the trust the City government has built with its community, making residents committed to staying in town. 

The close relationship and transparency the City has with its residents is leading to more engaged citizens who are eager to see their community grow. Community beautification projects are ongoing in War to help improve residents’ quality of life. The City is dedicated to maintaining a safe and clean community where visitors and residents want to spend time. “The people of War want better things for their children and they are not afraid to work to achieve it,” said Mayor Beavers. Community members are actively engaged in War’s beautification efforts and dedicate time to painting buildings and cleaning up the streets.

This is my Mayberry.

Developing diverse local leadership

Debbie King, City Council Member and President of the Kiwanis Club of War, is working to improve the community through beautification and recreational opportunities for people of all ages. The Kiwanis regularly put in volunteer hours by improving and seeking funding for War’s local park and library, as well as local events that draw in visitors. A major project led by the Kiwanis was the improvement of the local library. Recently, volunteers spent 400 hours working to improve the space by curating the book selection, improving the children’s section, and making the space more functional for War residents to hold and attend local meetings and use the library’s computers. The Kiwanis have also worked to improve the landscaping of the library, which is along a main road, to add to their beautification efforts of War. “We’re small, but we get a lot of work done. I think what fuels it is people who grew up doing something because it’s the right thing to do,” said King.

The Kiwanis Club has made space for residents of War to take up leadership roles and the President encourages club members to take ownership of projects and make them their own. With some members taking an interest in fitness and wellness, and others stepping up to take on historic preservation projects, the club provides value to everyone involved. The Kiwanis are especially eager to meet young aspiring leaders who can take on a role in the community. “We’re trying to find others who have visions to act on them,” said King. 

Do you want to support your community's tourism assets?

Partner Feature:

Our work is made possible thanks to incredible partnerships with other community development organizations across the state. From local economic development authorities (EDAs) to state level nonprofits working to uplift communities, all of our partners are crucial in making West Virginia the best it can possibly be by working together.One partner that made our work truly profound this year is Coalfield Development. For years, Coalfield Development has worked to rebuild Appalachian communities by inspiring the courage to grow, activating the creativity to innovate, and cultivating communities of opportunity in central Appalachia.We are proud to be part of Coalfield Development’s ACT Now Coalition, a broad network of organizations working hand-in-hand to uplift communities throughout Southern West Virginia. The ACT Now Coalition is infusing more than $63 million into programs to help communities using business development, building revitalization, and so much more.The Hub is leading the Community and Business Resilience Initiative as part of the larger ACT Now Coalition to bring other partners with us to build up community and business resilience in the Coalition’s footprint.“For decades, we’ve known the economy of southern West Virginia needs diversification. Some progress has been made on this goal, but not nearly enough,” Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development, said about the ACT Now Coalition. “ACT Now constitutes a tangible opportunity to take a major leap forward in this generational challenge to become a vibrant, growing, diversified economy. In the wake of continued coal-job losses, nothing could be more important for our region.”Our partnership with Coalfield Development is giving us a chance to take our work to new communities and to build upon our years of experience. Working alongside Coalfield Development in this large undertaking to bring $63.8 million to communities in Southern West Virginia is validation that the work happening to uplift West Virginia communities continues to grow.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Community Feature:

The Hub works alongside communities across West Virginia coaching community teams as they come together to make transformative changes in their towns. In 2022, one town stands out for its continued work and unwavering commitment to making its community a place where people want to live, work, play, and visit.Petersburg, located in Grant County at the northernmost point of the Mon Forest, is filled with community members who want to make their town a destination. Not only have businesses opened, and stayed open, the town has transformed the way they present to the world through rebranding and outdoor recreational development.As part of the HubCAP IV program, Petersburg utilized its technical assistance to push forward with projects to bring transformative change to its community. Part of the work Petersburg worked towards was creating plans to pave a hike and bike trail that runs along the Petersburg dike. The proposed trail will run approximately three miles along the Petersburg dike and will include multiple entrances for walkers and bikers. The group secured a $25,000 grant from Senator Hamilton, which was matched locally by the City of Petersburg, the County Commission, and the Board of Education, each adding an equal share to bring the total to $50,000.This year, Petersburg witnessed a major upgrade to one of the town’s most iconic and historic structures: The Hermitage Inn. The hotel, which dates back to 1841, has been renovated and once again welcomes guests to stay the night and have a nice dinner in the restaurant.The Hermitage Inn is the first project initiated and completed as part of the Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies (DARRE) program. Seeing the old hotel returned to its majesty has been an incredible development for Petersburg adding another jewel to the downtown area.Seeing Hub communities come together to create transformative change thrills us. Community members are the subject matter experts on what their towns need. Our commitment to accompaniment and walking alongside communities as they do the hard work guides us in our work. Celebrating their victories with them gives us a moment to uplift those making the work happen.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

DEI Journey:

Since 2018, The Hub has been working diligently to bring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into our work. For years, the organization has been working internally to expand on one of our core values: “We believe diversity creates strength.”We believe that now is a time when we must work from the ground up to commit to long-term efforts to build power through leadership development, programmatic strategies, and partnerships that commit to building power and advancing racial equity.Looking back at our organizational history, we acknowledge that our work in rural communities with populations of less than 15,000 has not reached a diverse cross-section of people in West Virginia. Because of this, we began to ask, “Who isn’t here?” when examining our involvement in communities. The social unrest in 2020 led us to examine our role in white supremacy, ableism, classism, and gender discrimination, and the ways we have perpetuated unjust systems in our communities and across West Virginia.Since 2020, our equity journey has included a staff racial equity learning series, making internal commitments to increasing our hiring and retainment of diverse staff including creating full-time Racial Equity Fellowship and VISTA positions, committing to increased coaching for rural communities of color across the state, and tackling the inherent challenges of advancing equity across the community development field within a highly rural, majority white state where Black and brown leadership has been historically marginalized and under-invested.Our belief in the power of local people to see the value and the potential of their place, and of each other, is at the core of our belief in the potential we have to build power in West Virginia to advance racial equity, inclusion, and accessibility while disrupting systems that have historically excluded some communities.We are committed to engaging in conversations to uplift communities and leaders of color to move from talk to action on why race matters in West Virginia as we work to disrupt these systems. We will support investment in Black-led organizations and rural Black leadership. And we are committed to driving public and private investments into these spaces, both organizational and geographic.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

It has been a year of abundant opportunities and partnerships across the state, and a year that has pushed all of us to work harder, faster, and smarter – together.At The Hub, we say that “the work works when you put in the work.” This means that our approach to community-based development, and individual leadership development, really does transform local communities, especially when we all work together for the same goal, and stay committed to working together for the long haul.A growing number of towns across the state are putting themselves on the “growth map.” Princeton, Richwood, Elkins, New Martinsville, Parsons, Petersburg, White Sulphur Springs, and so many more communities we have worked with are all putting in thousands of hours of volunteer work. This commitment has helped local leaders improve their communities. These improvements can be seen increasingly through the growth of local economic and business development in each of these towns.We extend our deepest gratitude to everyone for being part of the larger Hub community as we reflect on this year’s deep impact in West Virginia communities through our work. We are thrilled to have champions who believe in our mission that every community in West Virginia can achieve economic growth when they are supported with the tools and training they need to lead and spark positive change.We believe strongly in the fact that putting in the work yourself to improve your neighborhood, your town, and our state is where true transformational change happens. With strategic partners and thought leaders like you in the work with us, we continue to be able to walk alongside community teams as they do the work to uplift their communities.Thank you to all of the community teams and leaders who are brave enough to keep showing up every day. Your determination in the face of difficult work and far-off successes is something to applaud yourself for, and celebrate together.Whether you’re volunteering on the ground in your community, sharing our stories of hope with your friends and neighbors, or attending a virtual event with The Hub, your participation in our work is what keeps it going. Thank you for all your work and support this past year, and we are excited to continue in the work with you in 2023!In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development