Living and Learning in Appalachia 2012: Day One

The Clearfork Valley (Eagan, TN and surrounding communities) is the destination for the third annual community and civic engagement course on Appalachian community development.  Eight Auburn University students and Mark Wilson from the College of Liberal Arts are working with friends at the Clearfork Community Institute (CCI) from March 9 to March 16.  

Today our adventure led us over the mountain into Middlesboro, Kentucky.  The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park allows visitors to experience the nation’s “gateway to the West,” and we were fortunate to tour Gap Cave, the 42nd longest cave in the country (16 surveyed miles).  Although Gap Cave operated as a commercial tour operation for decades, the National Park Service has restored the cave to as close to original condition as possible, and the tour is conducted with flashlights only.  The two-hour tour included several bat sightings (one in flight near Jamie’s head!), historical information on the cave, and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.  For their enthusiasm, bravery, and the proper cave conduct, our students received Junior Ranger badges from tour guides Lucas and Brittany.

We spent the afternoon at the Bell County Historical Society Museum in Middlesboro with director James Madison and assistant Deborah.  We learned about the founding and development of Middlesboro (a project of England’s Alexander Arthur), and students worked on their own genealogical research on ancestry.com.  Lauren traced one line of her family back to the late 16th century, not bad work for an afternoon. Kadedra, Donna, and Mary Afton managed to dress up as firefighters, thanks to the Middlesboro Fire Department, and some conversations with locals on the street rounded out a busy afternoon.

We purchased 178 items at Wal-Mart, then headed back to CCI for some burgers grilled by Evan and Jamie and the first of many desserts prepared by Lauren.  The shelves are full of food, and the fridge is packed.  We’re ready for the week.

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