A Virginia Tech class project, led by historian Tom Ewing, looked at potential influences of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on the communities that it passes through. The class goal was to encourage students “to think critically and creatively about the ways that data analysis can inform understanding of contemporary issues (and vice versa)”. The class helped people connect to the area in which they live. With so many of our students coming from northern Virginia, the Norfolk area, and elsewhere in Virginia, the project enabled students to explore the region that is now their home.
Students presented their projects at a poster exhibition on April 24. Exhibits focused on how the AT influenced tourism, education, quality of life, and other topics in the communities that border the AT. Since the AT goes through isolated and underdeveloped areas, many of the communities face challenges. One interesting focal point of the exhibits was a probe of how data can tell very different stories regarding the Mountain Valley Pipeline that threatens the beauty and ecological balance along the AT. It was interesting to see how different organizations emphasized data in different ways to highlight whether the pipeline would benefit or harm the region in terms of dollars, jobs, and other factors.
I was able to talk with Tom about the class and his plans for future iterations of it. Possible directions include to tighten the definition of a “trail community” to focus on people for whom there’s the greatest impact; e.g., communities that rely on the AT for tourism and other economic benefits, and communities that are inconvenienced by the presence of the AT. Details about the workshop and plans for the future can/will be found at: http://ethomasewing.org/at_virginia/.