Deep in Ohio's Appalachian foothills lies a string of small communities seemingly forgotten by time. Villages like Shawnee, Haydenville, and New Straightsville, just a little over an hour outside of Columbus, feel like they are another world away.
The Wayne National Forest weaves its way through and around these towns - and with it comes a constant tension, to preserve its natural beauty or extract its natural resources. For isolated rural communities like these, the "promise" of jobs is hard to pass up, regardless of the public health and environmental implications, not to mention the likelihood of those jobs ever being created.
This region is often torn between these two opposing desires. A few generations ago it was the timber industry. Shortly after it was oil, then it was coal. Several tragic accidents, labor disputes, a sabotaged mine that burns even today over 120 years later, and untold environmental degradation led the federal government to designate the Wayne as a National Forest in an effort to reclaim the land that had been so depleted it had become unusable.
These days it's natural gas, extracted through fracking, that offers the latest promise of jobs and economic prosperity. Some folks welcome the industry, they're eager to see a jolt to the regional economy, which lags behind the national average by nearly two points. Others see fracking as the latest in a long line of snake oil salesmen who will destroy the land and leave its residents to clean up after the mess. Of course, some folks are just doing their best to get by.
This project focuses on these communities and their residents, as they grapple with these difficult questions, emerge from the past, and decide their future.