Jefferson County’s tourism business is booming. We lead the state in tourism dollars and taxes. We have been blessed with natural gifts that are renowned worldwide and we welcome over a million visitors every year. The clear view of the Blue Ridge comes to mind as well as two famous rivers that offer the perfect setting for water sports from fishing to rafting and tubing. Wait, there’s more to be thankful for!
Our incredible, historic equine industry and the fertile grounds that have been farmed for centuries are all foundational to our tourism industry; finally, our historic legacy of structures and events that still bear witness to the birth and growth of a new nation make Jefferson County a true destination for travelers.
How do we ensure that our tourism industry continues to thrive? The clear answer is through careful stewardship of the gifts we have been given. Respect for the land, maintaining clean water and clean air, as well as preservation of our historic architectural past are fundamental to continued growth of tourism.
We should not treat the natural and historic bounty that we have been given with such a cavalier and dangerous manner as some of our public servants do with their embrace of heavy polluting industry.
We already have some examples of polluting industry that have been here awhile yet that does not mean we should continue to pollute our home even more. One only needs to imagine what our county will become in 10 to 15 years if we don’t stop this destructive expansion now.
Major corridors such as Routes 9 and 340 will be lined with industry that will contribute to accumulating air and water pollution; our magnificent views will be riddled with smoke stacks; our roads will be clogged with heavy trucks running 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the light pollution will obscure the stars; we will be put at greater and greater risk for industrial “accidents” caused by overbuilding on karst geology. It is folly to espouse the view that all this will not harm tourism in Jefferson County.
If it is one thing that I have learned in my involvement in the tourism industry in Jefferson County through training, research and most importantly frequent contact with visitors is that we must remain true to our authentic self. If you ask a newcomer or a sixth-generation resident of this county or a visitor to describe who we are they talk about our history, the Blue Ridge, the rivers, the farm land; they never mention pollution and heavy industry. We are not Berkeley County. We are not Kanawha County. We are Jefferson County and all that that implies. Every decision is a weighing of risk and benefit and our tourism industry will prosper or be diminished by this decision before us and our elected officials. I choose stewardship of what we have. I hope you do, too.
– Jan Hafer is the president of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center’s board of directors