Please go off the grid in MY town

A reader of this site sent this appeal to consider his State as the perfect place to go off-grid. It is reprinted here, without additional comment, but we like hearing from folks recommending their own area to off-gridders

I live in West Virginia, and I want to give you the reasons to consider any part of this state if you are looking for a safe, secure place to live off the grid.

First, the people who inhabit this state are already equipped with the basic skills needed to survive almost anything. Most men here are hunters (and some of the women, too), and gardening for survival (not just for a few prize tomatoes to garnish a salad) is still a known albeit not widely practiced skill here.

The people who live here are mostly descended from the original European settlers who arrived in the late 1700s. The difficult geography and limited economic opportunity all but ensured a net emigration from the state from that point forward, except for the few decades at the end of the last and the beginning of this century when men arrived to work the coal mines and timber jobs that were booming at the time.

Consequently, the people who live here are, like their ancestors, rather tough, but that is not to say “rough”. Consider that in spite of having one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country, an admittedly low number of adults with college degrees, a sparse rural police force, and one of the highest if not THE highest number of guns per capita of any state in the Union (one of our fifty-five counties is known to be the home of more guns than there are people in the entire state!), West Virginia also enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the country (although it is increasing in the Eastern Panhandle counties closer to DC). This, I think, speaks volumes for people who have met the challenges of their environment by learning to take care of themselves and their neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong, people here don’t think of themselves as survivalists, but in some sense that is in fact what they always have been. They were survivalists long before the word was coined.

Another reason to consider this state is financial stability. I am in a strong position to speak to this point since I serve in the state legislature where I am a minority member of the House Finance Committee. As you watch the repeating news stories about financial chaos in California, Illinois, New York, and the other “big” states, consider that this small, poor, rural Appalachian state is one of five that is not running a budget deficit this year. Who knows what the future holds, but so far so good.

There are several important reasons for this. First, we have an abundance of natural resources. Whether you love or hate coal, we mine it, and it provides a strong economic foundation for the state even as the rest of the country teeters on the edge of insolvency. In addition, most of the state is sitting on top of the southern reach of the enormous Marcellus natural gas play, and we expect activity in the development of that resource for decades to come. Some people hate extractive industries, but the revenues and jobs they generate keep this state afloat.

Also, I should not ignore the fact that West Virginia has been frugal for the past twenty years. Two decades ago we bound ourselves to make our pension funds actuarially sound. We prohibited ourselves from adding benefits unless they could be funded in the period the obligations were incurred. We created a professional, nonpolitical board to oversee the investment of these funds (after a rather notorious debacle that cast us hundreds of millions), and we set earnings targets that were lower and more conservative than many other states.

Sure, we lost money in 2008, but most of our retirement plans are still at least 80% funded! The worst is still the teachers retirement system, which is only 55% funded, but consider that it was only 20% funded just over ten years ago!

A few years ago we tackled a $4.5 billion unfunded liability in a publicly operated workers’ comp system by privatizing it, filling the financial gap, and cleaning up some administrative messes. Now, just a few years later, the unfunded liability on the “old system” has been whittled down to less than $1.5 billion (we expect to eliminate it entirely by 2015 or therebouts), and the “new” system is a system of private insurance!

We have other liabilities such as OPEB, of course, but I am optimistic that we will find non-tax-based solutions to these as well: consider that the state itself owns more than 500,000 acres of land sitting on – you guessed it – Marcellus natural gas worth as much as $5000 per acre in up-front lease fees plus additional royalties for decades! One school system in the northern part of the state received over $1 million for the mineral rights under one high school alone. How’s that for an alternative to levy-based funding? What do you think we could do with the money from hundreds of thousands of acres of gas leases? In West Virginia, taxes are not the only economic option.

But how does the financial solvency of a state government affect your individual choice of location? Consider the results at the taxpayer level: while Illinois is hiking taxes through the roof, we actually lowered taxes this year. It wasn’t much, we lowered the food tax from 3% to 2%, but this followed several years of business tax reductions AND bond rating upgrades. The state’s fiscal soundness means that necessary services will be provided (maybe not Cadillac services), but you can still sleep soundly knowing that your taxes are not likely to jump into the stratosphere in the near future.

Incidentally, while some publications compare our tax structure unfavorably to other states, they ignore two important factors: our taxes are going down while others are going up, and our real estate property taxes are already among the lowest in the nation! Think about that last one while you’re looking for land.

So, to wrap this up, I can’t speak to Pennsboro specifically. I’m sure its a fine place, but I’ve never been there. I would encourage you to consider my part of the state, Greenbrier County and the surrounding counties of Monroe, Summers, and Pocahontas.

The topography here is a little different from the rest of the state – we are classified as rolling plateaus. The area is agricultural, with just a little coal mining activity on the Western side of Greenbrier County (this county is over 1000 square miles, though). Much of the region is pristine, held within the boundaries of a national forest. Recreational options include a ski resort, white water rafting in another neighboring county (which will also soon be the home of the Boy Scouts’ national Jamboree!), commercial caves and numerous wild spelunking options, and many miles of bike trails.

The area is very rural, but transportation into the region includes an Interstate (not the most heavily travelled, though), twice weekly Amtrak service from New York, DC, and Chicago, and an airport with regional air service and a runway that can accommodate the largest jets.

(I was once part of a greeting party that greeted President Bush as he deboarded Air Force One on the runway. I had never met a President before, and I didn’t know what to say, so I asked him if his daughter Barbara was still single. There were secret service guys everywhere. Good thing he had a sense of humor!)

The area is socioeconomically diverse – with a population that ranges from very poor to very rich (including one guy who might be a billionaire except that you can’t tell by looking at his house – a comfortable, middle-class dwelling that would make any schoolteacher proud – and his annual Christmas lighting is better than the Griswolds!).

My county (Greenbrier County, population 35,000) is home of the Greenbrier Hotel, a world-class resort that is now expanding under local ownership (that possible billionaire I mentioned above) after decades under CSX. As a result, in 2010 Greenbrier County was one of the strongest counties in the state for employment GROWTH.

The Greenbrier was once home to a cold-war era government bunker (it was top-secret, and everybody around here knew to keep their mouths shut about it!). If this place was considered safe enough for the U.S. Congress (after all, everybody around here can keep a secret), don’t you think it might be safe enough for you?

Incidentally, the Greenbrier county seat of Lewisburg also offers more social options than most towns of its size (pop. 3,500). The town is home of Greenbrier Valley Theatre, which is the state’s official professional theatre. It is also home to one of only four performing arts Carnegie Halls in the world, a medical school, and several other arts organizations. This year it was selected by the readers of Budget Travel magazine as “The Coolest Small Town in America”, although there are lots of other cool small towns in the region. Not that any of this might matter if you’re just looking to get off the grid, but at least you won’t be bored here while you’re waiting for TEOTWAWKI.

6 Responses

  1. Yes but it sounds really expensive for land there. Is it? WE need dirt cheap land because we are under in IL, desperate to get out of situation, we have a little cash, but not enough for land and a home in all places. Plus I worry that your area is liberal.

  2. sounds lovely, however, I wouldn’t get too attached to the idea of using or accessing national forest lands. Do some research about agenda 21 and ICLEI to understand why. We are on a solid mountain in Nwest pacific, inland a couple hundred miles, never feel everyone’s earthquakes, surrounded by waters, river, marshes, lakes; rural but with “neighbors” in the area, high elevation in a protected basin. I researched everything including likelihood of nuke fallout, earthquakes, mass exodus from cities, prices, name it, and found this to be one of the safest areas in the US. Big sky country, stars that take your breath away, minimal chemtrailing [stuff’s everywhere these days] and helpful respectful citizenry out here. We bought several lots, some to sell eventually, to like minded folks…the rest for us, our family [none of whom are preparing for anything] Each to his/her own of course, but we seem to skip all the droughts, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, frackers, strip miners etc etc. and live in peace, our health improving since our arrival even…there is a mid sized town about 50 miles away makes supplies when needed, convenient enough. little local general stores take up the slack. hope all find a solid, safe and lovely place to perch for the upcoming changes. stay safe.

  3. Having read Nick Rosen’s Off the Grid and due to my financial circumstances, I am interested in ‘Land trusts’ and possibly being a reliable companion to the elderly. Is this something that exists in W.V.?

  4. True, it usually is cold in the winter, although this year was not as harsh as last year. Snowfall varies widely with elevation and other factors. But the one consistent thing about winter around here I do not like is that it is very, very gray … overcast, barren trees … rather bleak.

    On the other hand, the other three seasons here more than make up for it. Some people enjoy Spring, and I like to see the redbuds in bloom, but my favorite season is autumn. The scenic highway between Cranberry Glades and U.S. 219 at the peak of fall color is a must-see, in my opinion. It is hard to believe as you travel through that wilderness that it was extensively logged and then devastated by a massive forest fire in the early part of the twentieth century. Now it has recovered and is part of the national forest. I make an annual expedition to Pocahontas county just to make that trip. (Incidentally, cell phones are all but useless there. That region is home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and as such is a designated radio quiet zone. One of the telescopes at the observatory is the largest movable man-made structure in the world. It is hundreds of feet high with a dish large enough to contain a football field, and the entire structure is mounted on what appears to be a circular railroad track so that it can pivot 360 degrees around the vertical axis. The dish also pivots on a horizontal axis so that it can be directed at the horizon or the zenith or any point in between. It moves at an imperceptibly slow speed, and on cloudy days the top of it can actually be veiled by the clouds. If you have any interest at all in science, or if you have a child who might be showing an interest in it, this is a very inspiring thing to see. It is not too far from the scenic highway to visit as part of the same day trip. Gasoline cars are not allowed in the area since spark ignition interferes with the highly sensitive receivers, but free tours are available on diesel-powered busses, and you can walk or ride a bike through the area. A free astronomy science museum on site is also a lot of fun for kids.)

  5. If you put a picture (watermark) of the State of West Virginia underneath this article, it would be the finest promotion for your state I could imagine. If it were not so cold in the winter, I’d take a look. My grandmother and mother are both from Oakhill, WV.

  6. I traveled the East Coast at the end of 2010, and of the places I visited I was enchanted by the beauty of both of the Carolinas and both Virginias. I was especially pleased at seeing forest covered mountains funneling water down their sides to pretty, fish filled lakes. The people seemed nice enough, didn’t get any weird vibes. If the state and county governments are tolerant of owner build housing I’d definitely recommend those states. Georgia’s pretty as well, with big, beautiful trees, but too humid for my taste, as is Florida.

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