Rural Life in The Southern Alleghenies

Rural Southern Alleghenies: the continuing series of the best sections of North America in which to pursue rural life, including population, jobs and crime, real estate and taxes, and education and health.

| May/June 1988

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    Tourism and agriculture form the backbone of the region's economy.
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    Map of Southern Alleghnies.
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    Snow can be expected after Thanksgiving, but really violent weather is rare.
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    Mixed hard-and softwood forests are abundant, offering trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

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A rich and rewarding region of "New America." Cream of the country: The Southern Alleghenies. The continuing series of the best sections of America to live a rural lifestyle. 

Rural Life in Southern Alleghnies

The valleys lying between the wooded mountains of the southern Alleghenies were once considered to be the Gateway to the West. Millions of years of erosion left natural corridors in the Allegheny Plateau that allowed earlier-day emigrants to leave the comparative civilization of the east coast for the unsettled, unpopulated land to the west. Today, because of alternate east-west routes and the airplane, this part of western Appalachia retains the remoteness, beauty and quiet so important to lovers of rural life. Its mountains, which divide the rivers emptying into the Atlantic from those draining into the Gulf of Mexico, are rich with springs, natural watersheds, lakes, creeks and the fertile meadows these water systems produce.

Four counties—Allegany (Maryland), Garrett (Maryland), Bedford (Pennsylvania) and Mineral (West Virginia)—though in three different states, form a natural grouping that is both rural and nearly equidistant (some two and a half hours) from three major cities. Their main employment and retail center is Allegany's county seat, Cumberland (pop. 25,233). This official Gateway to the West, intersected by U.S. Highways 220 and 40, is located 130 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 140 miles west of Baltimore and 140 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

Much of this four-county area is preserved in national or state game lands. Garrett County alone has over 74,000 acres of state forests, and manmade Deep Creek Lake spreads tentacle-like through the center of the county, providing miles of shoreline for private homes as well as for a state park. Allegany County contains Dan's Mountain and Green Ridge state parks; Rocky Gap, another manmade lake, reflects the surrounding mountains in its clear waters. Bedford County, to the northeast, has Lake Shawnee State Park, and numerous creeks and rivers in all four counties are excellent for swimming and fishing.

Allegany, the most densely populated of the four counties, has suffered economically over these last years. Strong unions and shrinking railroad and coal businesses have caused some of the area's largest manufacturing firms to slow production or close their doors. Small industries, however, are moving into the area, and agriculture (primarily beef cow-calf enterprises and fruit production) still plays a significant role in the economy. Frostburg State University, seven miles north of Cumberland, provides over 500 jobs, and its current enrollment of 4,186 is expected to increase steadily.

Garrett County's business center and county seat is Oakland (pop. 1,909), a town renowned for its expansive Victorian homes, built when fortunes were made from coal. With its higher elevation (900 to 3,300 feet above sea level), Garrett is Maryland's mountaintop playground. One-fifth of the county is made up of lakes and publicly owned park-lands. Tourism is the backbone of its economy, with the continuing importance of agriculture evidenced by the area's many scenic farms.

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