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The Appalachian Mountains, a prominent mountain range in the eastern North America, extend from central Alabama northeastward into Newfoundland and Labrador. The Appalachians are geologically an old range. Several mountainbuilding episodes in geologic history have resulted in a complex system of ranges and valleys and the presence of significant deposits of anthracite and bituminous coal, which have provided the basis for economic development in the region. The Appalachians represent the physical dividing line separating the vast central basin and the eastern seaboard.
During the colonial era, the Appalachians were a barrier to the inviting agricultural regions to the west. Prior to the end of French and Indian War in 1763, the regions immediately to the west of the Appalachians were considered hostile territory. The region remained essentially inaccessible following 1763 by virtue of a British proclamation in that year limiting colonial settlement eastward from a line marked by the mountain summits. This restriction was eliminated following the Revolutionary War, and people on the eastern seaboard began a migration to the west through the Cumberland Gap and the Hudson-Mohawk Corridor in New York, a transportation route that remains important.
The term Appalachia has been used generally in References to the entire mountain system and more specifically in identifying the central and southern sections of the Appalachians prominent for high levels of poverty, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an organization representing both federal and state governments, is devoted to improving conditions in the region. The ARC has created taxonomy of economic development categories to identify counties within the region. The categories include distressed, transitional, competitive, and attainment. Distressed counties have per capita incomes not exceeding two-thirds of the national average. Transitional counties rank somewhat higher than the distressed category, but are still lower than national averages. The competitive grouping ranks below the national average in unemployment and poverty, but income levels remain at least 10 percent below the national average. Finally, counties at the attainment level are on a par with the remainder of the country in income level, poverty rate, and level of unemployment. Appalachia has been the recipient of federal assistance for poverty alleviation and economic revitalization for decades. In recent years the region has benefited economically from a rise in tourism.
The widespread forest cover in the Appalachians became the basis for a flourishing forestry industry early in the region’s settlement history. However, within the past several decades the forest cover has suffered from the deposition of acid rain and high ozone levels. The primary sources of air pollution are coal-fired electrical generating plants in the midwest and the Gulf states. The general pattern of airflow in this region of North America is west to east and the particulates emanating from the power plant smoke stacks mix with moisture in the atmosphere and fall as acid rain over the forested areas of Appalachia.
- Mary Anglin, “Lessons from Appalachia in the 20th Century: Poverty, Progress, Power, and the ‘Grassroots,” American Anthropologist (v.104, 2002);
- Marilyn Evans, Holly George-Warren, and Robert Santelli, The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004);
- Kevin Pollard, A “New Diversity”: Race and Ethnicity in the Appalachian Region (Population References Bureau, 2004).