213: You Should Move Here, Too
A St. Louis counselor posted a blog entry today, listing ten reasons why he disliked living in the Lynchburg area. He criticized our lack of diversity (even though I used to attend a small church whose attendees represented 14 different countries at the time), our lack of bars and clubs, even how smelly our hipsters are. And—I kid you not—according to Ryan Thomas Neace, our city isn’t walkable enough to be a good place to raise children.
Rather than refute his criteria or his general review, I immediately got lost during my lunch break, compiling a list of the attributes that make me love the last stop on my Carmen Sandiego tour. See, I’ve lived in New York (49 months), Tennessee (41 months), Pennsylvania (18 months), Maryland (128 months), Florida (32 months), New Jersey (2 months), Indiana (27 months), and Virginia (136 months).
I chose to move to “the Hill City” and have fallen in love with it enough to call it home. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my wife and I are factors in my sister and some of our closest friends emigrating to what we lovingly call “LynchVegas.” Here are the selling points with which I would counter the Lynchburg skeptics.
Cost of Living
Due to my line of work, I can set my tent and hang my shingle anywhere. But it’s hard to beat the range of amenities in this area for the cost of access. Real estate taxes are low, especially if you live “in the county.” Even city taxes like those on my rental house are a fraction of what I see in my real estate advertising work in other states. A large percentage of local college students live off campus, thanks to the rent-to-to-value ratio; and the price of quality starter houses makes it easy for recent college graduates to buy their first home. Even owning income properties has a lower barrier to entry compared to other places in the country. In 2012, Money rated Lynchburg one of the top places in the country to retire—a place where your retirement savings go farther. One of our theaters is called the “dollar theater” for a reason—and I’m not talking about the place that plays quirky independent films downtown.
The Beaten Path
Living a 15-minute drive from downtown, I don’t walk down there often; but I’ve put a lot of miles on my sneakers and boots not far from there. In less than a ten-minute drive from my house, I can be on restaurant row or at the dirt trailhead of a mountain trail system that includes over 70 miles of fire roads and single tracks. In less than an hour, I can crunch gravel on the famous Appalachian Trail—on which I’ve covered almost 80 miles of map distance. With more than 20 miles of paved trails & bridges and even a pedestrian tunnel, you can walk or run on paved surfaces far from moving vehicles, too—in city limits, often with little-to-no visible evidence of human development other than the trail system itself. Wide sidewalks and frequent street lamps fill areas like Wyndhurst and Cornerstone with baby strollers, pets on leashes, and runners in reflective apparel.
The Road Runners Club of America, reportedly the oldest and largest distance running organization in the nation, awarded Lynchburg the 2011 Outstanding Runner Friendly Community. It’s easy to see why, as we have two running stores, countless running groups, and seemingly a race every other weekend. The Virginia 10 Miler last year attracted runners from eight countries and more than twenty states. The Beast Series of six off road ultramarathons from 50 kilometers to 101 miles are based here, and people travel from around the country to compete against our locals (including my buddy who set the cumulative series record a couple years ago). Even people who don’t run crowd the finish areas and line the roads with signs and cowbells in support. We even have a shower at my church for distance runners who leg it to campus.
If you’re into canoeing and kayaking, you can float probably almost a dozen different rivers within an hour’s drive—everything from inner tube-ready flat water to class V creeking. If you prefer powered or sail boating, you can be on a big lake before breakfast. Private lakes surround the city, including one where crew teams practice and several with racks filled with skiffs, kayaks, and paddle boats. I don’t fish, but fisherman line even the riverbanks across the street from the old mills and warehouses.
It’s the youngest of the “big four” colleges here, but it’s the one with the biggest budgets and most national recognition. I didn’t attend the institution, but I appreciate a lot of what it brings to the city. As a former librarian in a state that, at the time, was ranked as the best state library system, I can tell you that you’ll be hard pressed to find a library as state of the art as the LU one. Thanks to Jerry Falwell’s work, you can ice skate—and even ski & downhill tube, thanks to an artificial ski slope—12 out of 12 months a year. I’ve run on its tracks, played on its sports fields & tennis courts, and written lots of blog posts from their quiet areas—all open to the public and much of it for free. If you want to see national conservative movers and shakers in person—whether you agree with them or not—they all stump here. Same goes for the biggest faith-based music acts and comedians.
My in-law’s subdivision is literally across the street from one of Thomas Jefferson’s houses. The first home I bought here sat a few hundred yards from where Patrick Henry famously pontificated. General Lee surrendered the Confederate Army a half hour from Lynchburg. The impressive National D-Day Memorial (in the town that lost the most sons on Normandy’s beaches) is even closer. From the 1800’s plantations in the surrounding counties to a downtown that started with a commercial ferry in 1757, unique and impressive evidence of the past is inescapable. The southernmost outpost of the Harlem Renaissance sits not far from a Civil War cemetery so beautiful that people get married or have their portraits taken there. History doesn’t flip my switch, but I never cease to be impressed with Rivermont’s grand architecture. I make a point to take out-of-town guests the long way home through there.
Few places in America have the engineers per capita of this home to the main campuses for both the country’s largest commercial nuclear engineering firm and the largest government nuclear contractor—and a bevy of smaller, specialty engineering firms. With the second largest online university in the country, three historic college campuses, and several more community & technical colleges, education dollars flow constantly into the city. That influx of non-local money attracts national retailers and restaurant chains, as well as entrepreneurial shops. During the real estate bubble, our area didn’t see the same rates of appreciation as other parts of the country; but we also didn’t see the same rates of depreciation afterwards, either.
Exclusively Local Eats
Downtown, Rivermont, Wyndhurst, and Forest hold a bevy of quiet cafes, greasy spoons, swanky establishments, and hipster hangouts. You can eat pretty well in Lynchburg without patronizing a franchised brand, especially if you like exposed brick walls. We even have one week every year exclusively dedicated to filling the tables of independent restaurateurs. You don’t have to settle for Starbucks and McDonalds brews, either, with award-winning drive-through and walk-in coffee vendors at strategic locations around town. At Home Gourmet will deliver chef-cooked meals daily to your home, following a rotating menu. I heard somewhere that we even have a place where you can prepare dinner with the vendor’s ingredients and appliances and then bring it home—to a kitchen that can stay tidy. Local farmers sell their wares downtown, for those who want to be their own chefs.
With so many liberal arts colleges, the lineup of musicals and plays can seem endless. Whether you’re into Shakespeare in the park or a Broadway-type show with lasers, Lynchburg has you covered. Even the high school level is impressive; I went to The Music Man in a downtown school to which an alumnus on Broadway returned to lead the cast. In this college town, it’s not hard to find unsigned musical acts honing their craft in small spaces. Minor league baseball offers an inexpensive night of family entertainment, both on the field and in the firework-filled sky afterwards. The surrounding countryside includes orchards for autumn festivities, wineries for tasting tours, and even a corn maze. Garden and Christmas light walking tours bring out the best of the historic district. July 4th brings very different fireworks displays, including several that are some of the largest private ones I’ve ever seen. And I love watching the Timberlake homeowners’ pyrotechnics from the unique perch of a canoe in the middle of the black water.
Sunday Afternoon Drives
I know most people don’t have a sports car for a daily driver. For those of us who do, it’s hard to beat the asphalt that winds through the foothills and mountains around here. Motorcyclists love the snaking routes, too; and riding groups abound for the sport bike, cruiser, and Harley communities. Even if you don’t revel in performance driving, the vistas from the roads within an hour of downtown—like the Blue Ridge Parkway—can prove breathtaking at any speed.
Whether you just got a handful of used discs from Play It Again Sports or have a selection of competition-quality discs the width of your car trunk (which I’ve seen), you’ll find a set of tee boxes to suit your skill level. Off the top of my head, I can think of five disc golf courses inside and outside the city. That’s an uncommon concentration for any place in America.
Freedom of the Skies
The Lynchburg airport is big enough for Air Force Two and Coast Guard C130’s to practice touch and go’s but also small enough to welcome the constant circle patterns of a burgeoning school of aeronautics. With skies uncrowded by commuter jets, the wild blue yonder is often dotted by sport aircraft, experimental aircraft, hot air balloons, biplanes, and acrobatic stunt planes. I need more than the fingers on one hand to count the number of pilots or those who’ve taken flying lessons—just in my circle of friends. The Virginia record for foot-launch hang gliding distance started with a jump off a mountain just across the James River (and ended in North Carolina I was told). A relatively-short drive will get you in a tow-up sail plane, something that costs but $30 for passengers to try. The Blue Angels performed in our city; not a lot of cities can say that.
Global Reach & Impact
If you’re a person of faith, you definitely have a gluttonous selection of churches here from which to choose—including those for folks whose primary language is Korean or Spanish. With so many religious organizations comes a large number of para-church organizations and 501C3 non-profits, each with a different goal for aiding the human condition both here and abroad. It’s not difficult to find an adventure with both physical and humanitarian accomplishments. (As I write this, I have friends returning from the Tibetan border area of Nepal with Tibetan refugees; and I’ve sat on the plane next to a local doctor on his way to conquer Everest.) If you want to adopt the children of local unwed mothers, fight the global sex trafficking epidemic, or provide emergency services to those victim to hurricanes or tornadoes, there’s a local organization that will help you help others. Volunteer organizations like Big Brother Big Sister and the YMCA of Central Virginia don’t require any religious affiliation to impact the next generation.
In every place I’ve ever lived, the locals have said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour.” (And every place has thought they were unique that way.) That’s true of Lynchburg, too; but we do enjoy sustained, individual seasons—each with its own ideal activities. Snow skiing is closer than Charlottesville. Spring makes rivers runnable that are too shallow in summer. You can beat summer heat and bugs with a tent pitched at elevation or a jump off one of hundreds of local docks. The mountains make autumn even more gorgeous.
Most of the time, when transplants and bored natives complain about Lynchburg, I ask them if they’ve recently participated in a list of the many activities available here. Regularly, the answer is, “No.” In Lynchburg, as in other cities and towns across the country, your bonding with a place requires interaction with it. The more I find here, the harder it is for me to even think of ever moving somewhere else.