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A city's surprising new landmark ends season two of Save Our Towns

May 17, 2016

Graduate student Tara Reel with officials in Norton's council chambers

From left: Norton City Manager Fred Ramey, graduate student Tara Reel, and Vice Mayor Joseph Fawbush
In the Norton council chambers, graduate student Tara Reel is flanked by City Manager Fred Ramey, at left, and Vice Mayor Joseph Fawbush.

Traveling to Norton in Southwest Virginia, Tara Reel of Belington, West Virginia, a graduate student in urban planning and public administration in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, is the episode's field reporter.

She guides viewers through harrowing reports of falling boulders and the unlikely coalition created to transform a dangerous artifact from coal-mining days.

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In Pearisburg, a few new small businesses have sprung up, giving credence to Mayor Robert Dickerson's economic development efforts.

 The episode's expert tip comes from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and involves the staffing power needed to carry out an effective tourism development effort.

The final episode of season two also highlights Paul Marek of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, whose work in Appalachian involves identifying new insect life. In Washington County, Crystal Peek of Virginia Cooperative Extension helps schoolchildren learn more about their history.

Save Our Towns recently won first place in Best Community Affairs in an international communications competition and took two silver awards in the only public-relations contest judged by journalists.

The Outreach and International Affairs' series has generated thousands of views both on YouTube and on the resource-rich website. A bonus episode focuses on lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, along with Virginia Tech engineering students' role in documenting the public-health emergency. The theme is abridgement of democracy in Flint and its lessons for other towns.