The Climb From Salt Lick reminds us of the vitality of truly local journalism.
➼ When Nancy Abrams moved to Preston County in 1975, a couple of weekly newspapers still operated there alongside the daily Dominion Post. As a journalism student in her home state of Missouri, she’d interned at The Preston County News in 1974 and found that the paper, and the place, got under her skin. She returned after graduation for good.
Recounting her experiences as a photographer, writer, and editor at the paper from 1975 to 1985 in The Climb from Salt Lick, published this year by West Virginia University Press, Abrams gives an outsider’s inside look at the local issues of the day. She recalls the contentious atmosphere when the county consolidated eight high schools into five. When a “deconsolidation bond” failed and the schools were combined in 1977, protestors vandalized buses and blocked their paths. She writes of landfill politics and illiteracy and the importance of coal to the economy and the catastrophic flood of 1985, all with the curiosity of a non-native and the insight of an embedded journalist.
Abrams was seduced by the hills and, as a West Virginian by choice, she took it on completely—buying a house in the remoteness outside Terra Alta, learning how to make buckwheat cakes and press apples from abandoned orchards, marrying a West Virginian, raising her kids here. She kayaked and joined a women’s softball team and befriended hippies from outside the state and hauled her groceries with a sled when impassable snow drifts covered her driveway. She experienced the traditional and changing status of women in rural 1980s West Virginia.
The Preston County News was eventually bought by its rival weekly, The Preston County Journal. Now The Preston County News & Journal is owned, with a number of other publications, by NCWV Media in Clarksburg—about as local as journalism gets these days in most rural places. The detail in Abrams’ accounts of life and doings in Preston County reminds us of the vitality journalism has when reporters attend school board and county commission meetings in the place where they live.