As of 2010, Saltville has a town population of 2,077, a total area of 8.1 square miles, and bridges both Smyth and Washington counties in southwest Virginia.* Saltville’s motto boasts “Preserving History for over 30,000 years,” yet the town’s location has an ecological significance that goes back millions of years when the town’s location was a shallow inland salt-water sea. The salt eventually was deposited in Saltville Valley and formed veins of salt that run through the rock and form large salt caverns, becoming a key natural resource that has shaped Saltville’s history.
Commerical salt manufacturing pursuits date back to 1700s with both General William Russell and William King pursuing the trade. King sunk the first salt mine in the United States in the Saltville Valley.** The late 1800s saw the establishment of chemical factories in Saltville to utilize the natural salt reserves, essentially beginning the modern chemical industry in the United States. Saltville became a hub of industrial manufacturing boasting the largest dry ice plant in 1932 and second largest chlorine plant in the world in 1952.
Throughout the 1960s, Olin Mathieson began implementing environmental procedures due to increasing public awareness of the effects of industrial pollution, eventually announcing plant closure in 1972 due to new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The loss of over 1,000 jobs in Saltville left the town searching for a new industry and identity.
Industrial site investigations in the 1970s identified high mercury levels in site soil, groundwater and sediments of the North Fork of the Holston River as far as 80 miles downstream. EPA placed the Olin industrial site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. The Saltville Waste Disposal Ponds Superfund site is located along the North Fork of the Holston River (NFHR) encompassing 125 acres and including two large former waste disposal ponds, containing both mercury and alkaline waste material, as well as the former location of a chlorine manufacturing plant.
The 1980’s brought about the Panorama years, which created a focus on expanding the possibilities of ecological and historical tourism. Tourist friendly attractions have been created such as the Museum of Middle Appalachians, the Hardy Roberts Memorial Wave Pool, a 9 hole Saltville Golf course, an 8 mile long Salt Trail formed from a historic railway bed, Civil War sites with annual reenactments, Ice Age archaeological digs, the Well Fields historical park, the Back of the Dragon motorcycle tour, a new Kaboom playground, and numerous town parades and festivals.
While great efforts have been made to bolster Saltville’s new identity as an ecotourism and outdoor recreation destination, there are still vital resources not in place. Currently, the town does not have any satisfactory places for tourists to stay and explore the town beyond a few hours since Saltville’s sole motel has closed. With multiple properties for potential use, the town visualizes campgrounds, cabins, and an RV park that would increase the local tourism by simply providing a place for visitors to stay and enjoy the town’s many attractions. These parks could contain additional tourism draws such as a kayak launch by the river, an ATV or mountain bike trail in the woods, and a visitor center and museum in a historic Civil War era house. The goal is to implement a town masterplan to increase connectivity between attractions, provide improved hospitality to visitors, and improve quality of life in Saltville by building community pride and supporting the town’s economic and environmental sustainability.
With assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Assessment grant, CDAC worked with the Town of Saltville to develop a conceptual master plan that will include campgrounds, RV park, visitor office and museum, and a connected trail system across multiple sites encompassing a total of 70 acres, which would include a mix of donated, purchased, and existing town owned properties. These properties are located on several parcels surrounding the town with locations near the Salt Trail, Well Fields, Salt Park, Civil War sites, North Fork of the Holston River, and the forests. CDAC worked with a stakeholders committee to develop a conceptual master plan, (3) focus area designs, and a planting plan.
Project team: Nick Proctor, Xiaofei Shi, and Alex Jones.