WVU Extension Agent –
Community & Economic Development, Mingo County
WVU Extension agent Bill Richardson believes heritage tourism can become a major industry in southern West Virginia. The area’s rich history includes the mine wars and most famously, the Hatfield McCoy Feud. There’s also a rich railroad heritage.
“It’s a good option for southern West Virginia because you can’t outsource these jobs,” Richardson said. “These jobs are self renewing, clean, and self perpetuating, so the industry provides a balance to the historic mineral extraction economy.”
Growing up, Richardson was completely uninterested in local history. Like many Mingo County natives, he stayed as far away from the Feud and its accompanying stereotypes as possible. It wasn’t until he returned to Mingo County after earning a BS in computer information systems from the Universty of Charleston and an MBA from Marshall University, that he recognized the area’s heritage tourism potential.
Richardson has spent more than a decade working to develop tourism around the area’s history. His goal is for southern West Virginia to become a significant tourist destination.
Richardson has produced two films, Mine Wars and Feud: the Hatfields and McCoys. Those projects grew out of a need for something to show. “All we had [initially] was a good story,” Richardson said. The films do a couple of things. They tell the story, provide something tangible people can take away with them, and can be used as educational tools. Profits from the films support the ongoing development work.
Recognized as a Hatfield McCoy expert, Richardson has appeared in a number of major media productions, including a History Channel documentary, How the States Got Their Shapes, and American Pickers, the second highest rated program on cable television.
Working with American Pickers was quite an experience. “It was like traveling with the Beatles. Fans got on their cell phones and showed up everywhere we went,” Richardson said. “The crew was very professional and Frank and Mike were very down to earth. Mike Wolfe spent hours signing autographs and taking photos with fans.”
The payoff for these kinds of things isn’t just the opportunity to be on television. Richardson estimates that the area will receive media exposure worth more than $120 million.
You can contact Bill in Mingo County at 304-235-0370, or in Logan County at 304-792-8690. His email is Bill.Richardson@mail.wvu.edu.