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Documentary examines life in coal camps of southern West Virginia [WV Public Broadcasting]

By Shawn Patterson, WV Public Broadcasting

A new one-hour documentary from West Virginia Public Broadcasting offers an intimate view of mining communities in Wyoming and Raleigh counties. Winding Gulf: Stories from West Virginia’s Coalfields explores how the coal industry shaped these communities and how the residents of those communities responded to the positive and negative impacts of mining.

The program also shares how some coal camp towns are working to re-invent themselves as tourism destinations now that the mines are no longer producing.

Watch Winding Gulf: Stories from West Virginia’s Coalfields on Sunday, March 4 at 8 p.m. on West Virginia PBS and West Virginia PBS.HD. The documentary will also air on Sunday March 25 at 10 p.m. on West Virginia PBS and WV PBS.HD and on Tuesday, March 27 at 8 p.m. on West Virginia PBS.2, where available.

During the program, producers Jessica Lilly and Russ Barbour interview several local experts including Ken Sullivan of the West Virginia Humanities Council, Paul Rakes of West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Mack Gillenwater of Marshall University, and many individuals who lived in the camps and worked in the mines. Much of the archival footage is actually home movies taken by local families in the 1930s and 1940s. This footage shows what life was like in the camp and the working conditions of the miners.

“I wanted to showcase the amazing ability of southern West Virginians to adapt and overcome,” says Lilly. “The rich history of the Winding Gulf deserves to be documented and I suspect today’s struggles are in many ways similar to those of yesterday.”

Adds Barbour, “One thing I’ve learned over the course of this production is that it takes more than growing up in coal country to fully appreciate coal mining and the culture surrounding it.”