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The Western Front, Clinch Life Outfitters and other businesses in St. Paul cater in part to visitors looking for outdoor adventure in the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia. The Clinch River flows right by St. Paul, which straddles the border of Wise and Russell counties with a population of about 1,000. The town is next to a gateway to the Spearhead Trails, a network of 440 miles of trails that attracts ATV, dirt bike and mountain bike enthusiasts, and it seems as if about half of downtown businesses offer ATV rentals.
St. Paul is among the many Central Appalachian coalfield communities building outdoor recreation opportunities to benefit the regional economy and fill a gap left by the dwindling coal industry. Change happens slowly, however, and the growing outdoor industry faces challenges from the effects of coal’s remnants on the environment, economy and culture.