Bill Lynch, Mason Adams, Kelley Libby, Zander Aloi, Traci Phillips, Clara Haizlett, Vanessa Peña Published

Step Dancing At WVSU And Radioactive Brine, Inside Appalachia

A chain link fence is shown. On the fence is a sign that reads, "Keep Out," and there's a biohazard symbol.
Fairmont Brine processed liquid used in hydraulic fracking. Now abandoned, the site became a local hang out, but it's dangerous.
Justin Nobel

Step shows are a tradition at many historically Black universities, including schools in Appalachia. We hear about one that’s part of West Virginia State University’s annual homecoming celebration. 

Abandoned industrial sites have long been a magnet for people to explore and turn into not-at-all-legal hangout spots, but some come with hidden dangers. We learn about the danger at Fairmont Brine, a site in West Virginia that processed liquid used in hydraulic fracking.  

You’ll hear these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode:

Steppin’ Up At West Virginia State University

More than a dozen people pose and smile for a photo. Most have on red or black shirts. They stand in the center of a basketball stadium.
Members of Delta Sigma Theta at WVSU’s homecoming. The sorority was part of the annual step show at the university.

Photo Credit: WVSU’s Alpha Delta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Fraternities and sororities at West Virginia State University (WVSU), one of the state’s two historically Black universities, introduced step dancing at the school decades ago. They made it part of the school’s annual homecoming celebration.

Folkways Reporter Traci Phillips has been attending step shows since she was a kid. Last fall, she brought along her 11-year-old daughter Jayli. They brought us the story.

Teaching Soul Food

Large man in a blue polo cuts onions over a bowl in a kitchen.
Xavier Oglesby cuts onions for a macaroni salad he is cooking inside Manna House Ministries’ kitchen. A pot of boiling water is behind him, cooking the pasta for the dish.

Photo Credit: Vanessa Peña/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Appalachian table is complex and varied. Along with biscuits and gravy, it includes things like collard greens, extra cheesy mac and cheese and fried chicken feet — soul food. 

Soul food is associated with southern Black communities, but it’s also traditional to Appalachia, too.

Folkways Fellow Vanessa Peña visited with Xavier Oglesby, a master artist in soul food cooking from Beckley, West Virginia.

Radioactive And Dangerous

An abandoned building is shown covered in graffiti.
Fairmont Brine has fallen into disrepair since it was abandoned.

Photo Credit: Justin Nobel

Starting in the late 2000s, parts of Appalachia saw a natural gas boom from hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. But, some of that faded and in some places, the oil and gas industry has left behind dangerous industrial sites — like Fairmont Brine in Marion County, West Virginia. 

Left alone, the abandoned site became a popular hangout spot for unsuspecting young folks. 

Justin Nobel, an investigative reporter, wrote about the issue for Truthdig. The story is titled “Inside West Virginia’s Chernobyl: A highly radioactive oil and gas facility has become a party spot in Marion County.” 

Mason Adams spoke with Nobel about his investigation. 

Sugar Syrup Season In Central Appalachia

An older woman gives a young boy maple syrup.
Valerie Lowry offers samples to visitors at the Highland County Maple Syrup Festival.

Photo Credit: Clara Haizlett/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Highland County, Virginia and its neighbors in West Virginia are some of the southernmost places in the U.S. to make maple syrup.

Generations of people in these communities have turned tapping trees for syrup into a longstanding tradition — but modern producers are experimenting with new syrups while adapting to changing demands, and a changing climate.

Folkways Reporter Clara Haizlett brought us the story.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Jeff Ellis, Tyler Childers, Amethyst Kiah, Joe Dobbs and the 1937 Flood and Frank George.

Bill Lynch is our producer. Zander Aloi is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.

You can find us on Instagram, Threads and Twitter @InAppalachia. Or here on Facebook.

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Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.