Big Creek People In Action is located in the town of Caretta, West Virginia
in McDowell County - West Virginia's southern-most county. This beautiful
region of the country is replete with natural resources, and yet is the
sixth poorest area in America.
Although the people of this region are generally poor in terms of material
wealth, they are extremely rich in spirit. Visitors to this area are
welcomed with incredible hospitality by the entire community. The simplicity
of life here enables visitors to step away from the distractions and fast
pace that have come to characterize American society. McDowell County, West
Virginia offers the chance to slow down, truly breathe, and soak in the
simple pleasures of small town living that are seemingly lost amid our
During the 1800s, this region of the country was an isolated area populated
by 2,000 hearty and independent mountaineers that hunted and trapped game,
worked the land, and raised large families. By the early 1900s,
entrepreneurs from outside the area discovered rich resources of timber,
coal, and gas and successfully gained control over most of the land and
resources. By the 1950s, the coal industry increased the area's population
to over 100,000 by recruiting skilled and courageous workers from the deep
South, as well as across Europe and the world, to mine coal in the "heart of
the billion-dollar coal fields."
Like most coal communities, Big Creek District enjoyed the good times and
struggled through the bad times with the coal industry. The depression of
the 1980s took a great toll in the area. At one time, all major coal
operations closed; several were bankrupt and never re-opened.
Families suffered because of unemployment. Poverty increased dramatically.
The well being of families and children deteriorated. Health care and
education rapidly declined. Since 1980, 60 percent of the residents have
left the area, primarily seeking employment and a higher standard of living.
Exacerbating the poverty in this region are the floods that have occurred in
recent years, destroying many homes and forcing many to find residence in
other communities. In July 2001, one large flood and two smaller ones
occurred in McDowell County. This was reported to be one of the worst cases
of flooding on record for this area. Local media reported that 1,500 homes
and businesses were damaged, 600 people were left homeless, damages in the
county approximated $100 million, and one preschool child lost his life.
On May 2, 2002, the sky darkened once again and torrential rains fell for
several hours. Creeks, rivers, and streams rose, left their banks, and
covered valleys from mountain to mountain. Raging water and trees left on
the ground from timbering cascaded down the mountains into streams, homes,
and communities. Homes, businesses, schools, health care facilities,
government buildings, churches, and parks were damaged or destroyed. Bridges
and roads were destroyed. Electricity, water and sewer services, telephone
and cable services, radio and newspaper services all shut down, leaving
people in the dark and cut off from the outside world. Many lost everything
- their homes, vehicles, pets, mementos, and possessions. Children were
trapped overnight in schools or on school buses, or were dropped off at
local businesses and their families did not know where they were or if they
were alive. Seven people died as a result of this flood.
Approximately 25,000 people live in McDowell County, with Big Creek District
having 6,300 of them. In the District, over half the residents are women, 5
percent are African American, a third are young, and nearly 90 percent of
families with children are low to moderate income. McDowell County
6th poorest area in America 5th highest child poverty rate in America 6th
worst health status in America Unemployment doubles state rate and more than
triples national rate Median family income is one half the national level
One of lowest levels of educational achievement in the nation Highest adult
illiteracy rate in West Virginia Only 44 percent of high school graduates
attend college One of lowest levels of college graduates in the workforce in
the nation (3.4 percent) 85 percent of land and natural resources are owned
by absentee landowners.
For entertainment, people enjoy square dancing, bingo, and concerts at
Liberty Bluegrass Hall, fishing at Berwind Lake, hiking, community
festivals, and the company of those around them.