CULLOWHEE – A new book by a Western Carolina University history professor tells the story of the rise of the tourism industry in Western North Carolina, from the early 1800s when low-country planters escaped the summer heat by heading to higher elevations to the arrival of casino gambling in Cherokee.
In “Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina,” published by the University of Alabama Press, Asheville native Richard D. Starnes contends that tourism has exploded from modest roots in the early 19th century to emerge as the defining economic and social force in WNC.
“The effects of tourism in terms of employment, economic development and local tax revenue are indisputable,” said Starnes, an assistant professor of history at Western. “Of course, not all residents are pleased with the roles tourism plays within the region. Even today, native-born residents sometimes resent outsiders, whom they feel view mountain people as backward and ignorant.”
Residents have other concerns about tourism, he said, including inflated property values resulting from rampant second-home construction, air and water quality issues associated with an influx of tourists, and the loss of forestland for recreation and timber to real estate development.
“These local effects mirror the issues facing many tourist communities across the South,” Starnes said. “The book seeks to understand how a region develops as a tourist destination and how that process shapes the lives of the people who live there.”
A member of the WCU history department faculty since 2000, Starnes earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Western and his doctorate from Auburn University. He is senior research associate at the university’s Mountain Heritage Center, which promotes the natural and cultural heritage of the Southern Appalachian region through exhibitions, publications, educational programs and demonstrations.
Starnes also directs the Western North Carolina Oral History Project, and his research interests focus on the social and economic history of the American South since the Civil War.
He previously served as co-editor of “Southern Journeys: Tourism, History and Culture in the Modern South,” also published by the University of Alabama Press. “Creating the Land of the Sky” is part of “The Modern South” series.
For more information on the Western Carolina University history department, call (828) 227-7243. For more information about the University of Alabama Press, visit its Web site at www.uapress.ua.edu . To obtain a copy of “Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina,” contact the press’s distribution center in Chicago, (773) 702-7000.