This Jackson County community has pride in spades–and parades.
It’s a warm September morning and 50 people are gathered on the banks of Mill Creek near Ripley—high school students, kids from a local Christian camp, business owners, families, even the mayor. They wade knee-deep in the cool waters, digging out debris—old tires, tree limbs, bits of plastic—and stuff it into canoes and garbage bags for disposal. By the end of the day everyone is caked in mud, scratched, and cold, but laughing. This first creek cleanup project only covered about two miles of Mill Creek Water Trail’s 22-mile stretch, but it’s a start.
“We had ordinary folks hand-in-hand cleaning up the creek that day,” says Sally Blessing, secretary of Main Street Ripley’s board of directors. “It felt good.” The hope is that their work will lead to a revitalization and turn Ripley into a destination for kayaking, canoeing, and camping—one of many efforts in this tiny town to not only support the local economy but also to inspire the next generation of activists. “That sense of ownership in town and pride in where you live is passed on,” Sally says.
Events like this are nothing out of the ordinary in Ripley. The community has banded together to restore the historic Alpine Theatre, put on events like the annual Mountain State Art & Craft Fair, form a convention and visitors bureau, and honor military veterans. Readers of WV Living voted it Town with Most Community Pride in 2014. With a population of less than 4,000, it is Norman Rockwell-esque, not only in its quaint businesses, shops, and dining, but in its sense of belonging. “I’ve lived in other counties and community pride is sometimes overregulated. Ripley lets you live. It’s a pride that comes from the people, from within—not from the government. That’s what we all have in common, a sense of being neighbors,” Sally says.
This manifests itself in big turnouts for high school events, residents who take the ‘shop local’ movement to heart, and lots and lots of parades. “We may lead the state in parades per capita,” says Mike Ruben, Ripley Convention and Visitors Bureau director. The city is also known for having the biggest small-town Independence Day celebration in America. “In many ways Ripley epitomizes the Fourth of July in America, those values. It’s a slice of Americana,” he says. Carolyn Rader, Ripley’s mayor, says natives and transplants feel equally at home here in Jackson County. “We all strive to make everyone feel welcome, no matter how long they’re staying. We’re proud of our families, our city, and our different heritages,” she says. “I think the common denominator is that we all work together.”
written by MIKENNA PIEROTTI
photographed by NIKKI BOWMAN