Confronted with railroad layoffs that all but demolished the local economy, Erwin, Tennessee, took a sordid event from its past and created a new selling point for the town. Once the site of unspeakable cruelty, Erwin now brings in tourists and raises money for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Episode 4, Season 6 of Save Our Towns outlines how town leaders moved from attempting to hush up the execution of a circus elephant to playing up the possibilities with an annual elephant festival. “We love elephants,” says Jamie Rice, the town’s communications specialist.

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Also in the episode, viewers will learn which counties are doing fabulously in Virginia and which are suffering, according to an Appalachian Regional Commission report. The Glade Spring update offers a look at the Salt Trail, which almost connects that town to Saltville. (The “almost” is the problem.)

The expert tip – from Jamie Bennett of New York-based ArtPlace America – focuses on artists.

In a bonus segment, Save Our Towns goes behind the scenes at the Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity, held in September at Virginia Tech. What are the challenges and reasons for optimism in small towns? Those interviewed include Philipp Gabathuler, who earned his master’s degree in urban and regional planning at Virginia Tech and is senior planner with the Central Virginia Planning District Commission; Stephanie Hamlett, executive director of the Virginia Resources Authority; Emmett Hanger, Virginia state senator and chair of the Center for Rural Virginia; Kristie Proctor, executive director of the Center for Rural Virginia; and Drew Williams, COO of The Berkley Group, who earned his bachelor’s degree in public and urban affairs from Virginia Tech in 2002.  

Save Our Towns is produced by Outreach and International Affairs and distributed to mayors and town managers throughout Appalachian Virginia and beyond.