What Happens After the Mines Close?

In eastern Kentucky, former coal mining towns are plotting how to reinvent themselves

THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN in Kentucky, Black Mountain, straddles the border between Virginia and the Bluegrass State, and from its summit the views stretch to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina to the south. Beneath Black Mountain, three small Kentucky towns—Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch—line up along a two-lane highway that winds through a narrow, vine-covered valley split by a small stream called Looney Creek. For 15-year-old Cumberland native Chase Gladson, this is the best place on Earth. His friends can't wait to go to Lexington for college—the University of Kentucky, home of the Wildcats. Gladson is different. "I want to stay here," he said.

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