It was 35 degrees and cold outside, but inside the Watauga County Library in Boone it was quiet and warm. That’s where Down Home met up with folks from around Watauga County recently to hear from them about what was on their minds.
“What keeps you up at night?” asked Bonnie Dobson, Down Home’s Deep Canvass Manager. “What do you worry about living here in Watauga?”
A lot, it seems. The small group gathered together listed out a number of concerns they have for their community. From the high cost of housing to polluted waterways, local folks talked about how difficult it was at times to live in the place they love.
“A lot of us are generational families,” said one older woman attending the event. “But everything in town seems to be for people who are better off. People who aren’t us.”
There is a lot of wealth in Watauga County, several participants explained, and a lot of it is new wealth. Because of the undeniable physical beauty of the area, and because of the college in Boone, people have flocked to buy properties in the area– at the expense of local families. “My sister has an old trailer on some land in Ashe County that she just put up on the market for 100k” explained one woman.
“And she’ll get that!” said the man next to her.
The question being played with in the room wasn’t debating if the woman needed or deserved that money, but more to prove the point that local families couldn’t afford to buy that trailer at those rates. Working class and poor people are edged out of the market as outsiders and newcomers grab up properties like this one.
A lot of the housing goes to students, another participant explained– putting a single apartment up for rent can bring 100 inquiries. “If a landlord can rent each bedroom out for $700 to students, then they aren’t going to rent the whole house to a family.”
Participants in the forum quickly identified access to healthcare as a major concern for poor and working families. One mother in the group said that it took over a year to get her child in to see a mental health provider because there are not enough providers to serve the population.
“There is only one pediatrician’s office in the entire county,” she explains, adding that the local hospital isn’t equipped to do often very basic services and people have to travel out of the county frequently for healthcare.
Others in the group agree and chime in to say that the health services available don’t always reflect the population needs– but without representation of working class families in local government, little will change.
One participant in the group lives on a creek that is downstream from a big quarry. For years, she has seen a clouded plume move down the creek in the hours after the quarry and stone company blasts. “I used to have trout in that creek,” she says, “I haven’t seen any in years.”
“Clean water is a huge issue,” explains another participant. “I spend the summer on the river, and you can see little bubbles and oils and a film floating down the New because of people washing off their decks.”
“That impacts us, the local families, in ways that it doesn’t impact the wealthy. They can get bottled water or filtration systems or just move away when it gets bad- we can’t,” says a local mom.
The feeling is that help for these issues doesn’t exist locally. The woman with the polluted creek says that the closest state service to monitor the situation is in Winston-Salem, an hour and a half away. “By the time they get up here, they can’t see what I see.”
“What is your biggest take away from today?” asked Bonnie to the group as the conversation came to an end.
“How much we agree on.”
“How much we have in common.”
“How much we have to do.”