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.

Mayor Robert Beavers

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.

Mayor Robert Beavers

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.

Debbie Dority, City Office Manager

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. 

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