Thursday, March 22, 2001

Retirees returning home to eastern Ky.

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        BLAINE, Ky. — Dennis and Nadine Farley were part of a trend when they moved out of eastern Kentucky in the 1950s to work in the industrialized North.

        They also may have been part of a trend when they moved back in the 1990s.

        Retirees returning to the region from cities like Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, may have played a part in a population increase of 67,065 in the state's mountain region over the past decade, said Ewell Balltrip, executive director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission.

        “There's a coming-home factor,” Mr. Balltrip said. “I wouldn't call it a boom, but there is anecdotal evidence of growth in the number of people retiring and moving back.”

        The latest count by the U.S Census Bureau found that populations swelled in 40 of Kentucky's 49 Appalachian counties. The region overall expanded from 1,045,357 in 1990 to 1,112,422 in 2000.

        Mr. Balltrip said a variety of other factors come into play. For example, in Lee and Morgan counties, he said, inmates placed in newly built prisons could account for modest increases in populations. In other counties, the opening of factories that helped to diversify the economy and provide more jobs also helped to keep people at home in the past decade.

        Census data showed declining populations in seven counties that rely heavily on the coal industry for jobs. Pike County alone lost 3,847 people between 1990 and 2000. And Harlan County's population dropped from 36,574 to 33,202 during that decade.

        Boyd County, home to Ashland, eastern Kentucky's largest city, showed a loss of population in the latest census — from 51,150 in 1990 to 49,752 in 2000. The population of one of the region's poorest counties, Owsley, declined by 178 people to 4,858.

        The route to prosperity for generations of eastern Kentuckians has been the northbound lanes of U.S. 23 leading to cities in the industrialized North, said Roger Jordan, a Lawrence County magistrate from Blaine. As those people reach retirement, he said, they're returning to the mountains.

        The Farleys could find no jobs in the region when they finished high school, so like the majority of their classmates, they left the region. When they retired in 1992, they bought a remote farm outside of Blaine in Lawrence County and moved back. Now, instead of noisy traffic, they awake to crowing roosters or the gobbling of wild turkeys.

        “When we left, there wasn't much work here,” said Dennis Farley, 68, who worked 37 years as a machinist in a Columbus factory. “People are far better off now.”


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