Roundup: Rebuilding West Liberty

Rebuilding after a tornado • Hacking rural medicine • Farm economics and ag politics • Beavers for the win! • Appalachian Food Summit dates revealed • Google Street View hikes and paddles

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West Liberty, Kentucky, is still rebuilding three years after a tornado ripped through town, killing six and destroying a good part of downtown. But they are rebuilding, and people are returning.

Since December, people have been moving back into what is now known as Frederick Place Apartments, a 48-unit complex of federally subsidized units that once housed as many as 70 people. The grand opening of the $6.2 million complex is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, the third anniversary of the tornado.

The rebuilding strategy, aided by approximately $30 million in private money, includes a new bank building that will also house a business incubator, federally subsidized housing, and a health and wellness center (which will have a climbing wall and bowling alley).

All these visible signs of reconstruction help boost local confidence about a comeback, but they're also important steps in West Liberty's desire to rebrand itself, said Jim Gazay, construction manager for Commercial Bank.

"We're not the town that was hit by the tornado," Gazay said. "Now we're the town that's developing into something else."

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A first-of-its kind rural medicine hackathon hopes to bring together “bright minds” in rural medicine with entrepreneurs, engineers, patients, students and others to create solutions for rural health-care delivery.

The March 20-22 event will be held at the University of Montana in Missoula and is modeled after MIT's Hacking Medicine Program, which will facilitate the event. MIT’s Hacking Medicine brings together diverse groups for short, intensive work geared toward creating products and systems to solve medical-care problems. This is the first time a hackathon will focus on rural healthcare, organizers said in a press release.

The event will explore such topics as telemedicine, community involvement, medical workforce shortages in rural areas, preventing readmissions, hospice and transportation, according to the event’s website.

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Agri-Pulse’s six-part series, “Packing Political Punch in Rural America,” takes a deep dive into farm economics, recent history and ag politics. But the title of the series isn’t on point, because (as so often happens) it conflates “rural” with three things: agriculture, agriculture, agriculture.

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The California drought, now in its fourth year, has put a hurtin’ on wild salmon populations in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers. Enter the beaver. Once thought to hinder the salmon’s upstream migration, the role of the tree-downing, dam-building mammal is being reconsidered.

Beavers, which were almost hunted to extinction in California during the 1800s, can help restore this watery habitat, especially in drought conditions. Fishery experts once believed the animals' dams blocked salmon from returning to their streams, so it was common practice to rip them out.

But, consistent with previous studies, research led by Michael M. Pollock, an ecosystems analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows the opposite: wild salmon are adept at crossing the beavers' blockages.

Beavers are tireless workers (and work for free) that raise the sparse water tables.

"One of our largest expenses is electricity for pumping water. With beavers on the land, the water tables are higher, and we've had a 10% to 15% reduction in pumping costs."

Along with saving money, Plank now boasts 76,000 Coho fingerling (very young fish) and 35,000 Chinook fingerling in his property's rivers.

So rejoice, fishermen and environmentalists. And respect your new buck toothed friends.

PS – Beavers are fascinating, FYI.

— Shawn Poynter

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Clear your schedules, cornbread aficionados, the 2015 Appalachian Food Summit has a date and venue: September 26 in Abingdon, Virginia.

The Appalachian Food Summit is a community of writers, chefs, farmers, scholars, community activists and traditional mountain food enthusiasts gathered around the table to honor the past, celebrate the present and support a sustainable future for Appalachian food and people.

Founded in 2013, the first Summit gathering was hosted in the Spring of 2014 at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Kentucky, and drew a crowd of 75 traditional food enthusiasts from the region and beyond.

The next Appalachia Food Summit will take place on Saturday, September 26, 2015, at Heartwood in Abingdon, Virginia. The gathering will include speakers, discussions and locally sourced meals prepared by Appalachia-based chefs showcasing some of the best in traditional and innovative mountain cooking.

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Ever wanted to paddle part of the 3,000 mile Chesapeake Bay water trail that Captain John Smith mapped in 1607 or explore the trails of Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina but never had the time? Well now you can experience these and other hikes and paddles from the comfort of your computer thanks to a unique mapping partnership between the Conservation Fund and Google Street View.

Last year, Conservation Fund staff and its local partners borrowed and set out with Trekker, a 4-foot-tall, 40-pound camera and backpack, that’s part of Google’s project to create a digital reflection of the world for people to explore and enjoy. Now, these spectacular places that The Conservation Fund and its partners protected are online for the world to see. The result is a virtual tour of eight sites, stretching from Delaware to North Carolina. Now, the fields of Antietam National Battlefield, the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay, and the misty caves of North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park are available to visitors and outdoor enthusiasts across the globe seeking a glimpse of places they might not typically see on the web-based mapping service.

“We hope that panoramic, fully navigable imagery of these places on Google Maps enables people to explore and learn about these sites of historic significance and national pride,” said Deanna Yick, Google Maps Street View Program Manager. “The imagery collected in partnership with The Conservation Fund truly brings these important locations to life.”

 

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