Encompassing parts of 13 states from southern New York down through the northern region of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the Appalachian mountain range offers a Redoubt alternative for those east of the Mississippi. More than just a geographical designation, Appalachia offers some unique cultural aspects that contribute to its potential viability for preparedness living. The “Appalachian Redoubt” has been referenced various survival-minded authors, who mainly focused on the Cumberland Plateau region and the more rugged mountains of North Carolina, primarily geared towards a “bug out” /retreat scenario. I’m going to address the area that I live in — Southeastern Ohio/Eastern Kentucky/Northern West Virginia, from a permanent resident/”bug in” perspective.
As with any location, there are pros and cons to the Appalachian Redoubt, which very often are one and the same. Every cloud has a silver lining.
1. Poverty and a stagnant economy head the list of potential pitfalls. While good paying jobs can still be found, they take some searching for, and an appropriate skill set. It is imperative that you either have secured employment, an independent means of support, such as an internet-based business or telecommute job, or sufficient cash on hand to purchase your property and necessary infrastructure and equipment outright, before finding your dream retreat and moving. You can’t depend on moving and then finding employment. Two of the biggest sectors are prison employment (state governments are fond of dumping their “unwanted” into rural and poorer parts of the state–out of sight, out of mind) and healthcare. Skilled trades such as mechanics, electricians, and plumbers can also find work. There are some opportunities in IT, bio research, and manufacturing, but competition is stiff in these areas. Mining and timber industry employment still exist, but they are the most precarious options for long term employment, and the majority of the jobs are filled via the “good old boy” network- the sons and friends of current employees.
On the upside, economic stagnation means that properties can be found at much lower prices than in more affluent regions.
However, due to the aforementioned poverty, it pays to carefully select your property. There are areas of nicer well-maintained properties scattered among the broken-down mobile homes and tumbledown houses. There are also undeveloped tracts available for extremely low prices. An in-person viewing is imperative. If you plan on relocating from any significant distance, it would be wise to first secure employment/support, take a short-term rental, and then spend a bit of effort looking for your permanent property.
2. Water, water everywhere. Appalachia hosts a plethora of waterways of varying sizes. Rivers, creeks, streams are all within a few miles of anywhere. Properties with creeks or streams on them are common. The average rainfall is close to 50 inches per year. This means available roof area can be guttered and stored in rain barrels for future use, gardening, livestock, the pond stays full, and fishing is close by. It also means some areas are prone to flooding, and bottom lands tend to stay boggy. Another reason to look at potential properties in person, spring is a good time, as it will reveal areas of standing water or wet basements that may be a problem.
Where’s there’s water, there’s trees. The area is a mixture of rolling hills and hollers, flatter bottom lands, with small areas of pasture and crop land intermingled among woods. Pick a place with an acre or two of woods- or an entire hillside full of trees- and you have a steady supply of free firewood for your wood burning stove.
3. Small livestock operations, chickens, rabbits, gardens and fruit orchards are the standard, not the exception. Due to the relatively long growing season and temperate climate, a variety of vegetables, berry bushes, and fruits trees grow easily, providing both ample fresh eating, and an abundance to preserve for the larder. Gardens and orchards yield not only the standard garden vegetables and ubiquitous apples, but melons, berries, cherries, pears, paw paws, along with cold hardy varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, and grapes. You won’t stand out as the weirdo with all the animals and a huge garden that screams “Prepper”, elsewhere. Feeder animals, breeding pairs/trios of whatever species you want, along with equipment, both new and used, are readily available.
The viable grazing season for animals last from early April until the snow covers everything. In early January, our critters are still finding green grasses to munch on, reducing the need for supplemental hay to something for them to munch on at night in the barn. Being able to turn them out to pasture also reduces the amount of straw and bedding needed.
The downside is that everybody has critters, wood, and gardens, or is neighbors or relatives of those who do- and sell the same. Don’t plan on turning your homestead into a viable self-sustaining source of income by selling animals, eggs, wood, or produce. Those that are buying buy from their friends, fellow church members, and extended family; not the strangers that moved in.
4. Proximity to metropolitan areas. This is a double edged sword. While the region has an abundance of rural land, it is uncommon to be further than 60-90 minutes from a metropolitan area. This makes the employment situation somewhat better, if you don’t mind the commute. I personally work 68 miles from where I live. The difference in the pay scale more than outweighs the transportation cost. We have the income of a suburban dweller, with the cheap land and lower tax rates of the rural area, and the ability to produce a large portion of our own needs.
For those worried about defense from the Golden Horde- once off the state highways, the region is a maze of twisting hilly roads, over ridge tops and down hollers. There are houses and building areas on those ridge tops you will not get into or out of when it’s snowy, or muddy. It is quite possible to be well hidden up the hill behind the trees with nothing more than whatever drive you put in to mark your presence. Although our main house is on the gravel road, it’s in the middle of the hollow, with 16 acres of hills and woods with a stream behind it. It also backs up to 10 acres of uninhabited woods, which in turn borders another 10-acre tract. The two are owned by a father and son. We have plenty of “retreat space” on our property, with a large buffer zone on the backside.
5. Minimal to no zoning regulations in rural areas. No permits are required for ponds, sheds, chicken coops, etc. Septic fields are common, as are wells. You can put an outhouse in the woods (staying “downstream” of your underground water/well) and no one will be any the wiser. We put in our own culverts running to a drainage ditch to deal with some water issues, built a chicken coop, and put up storage shelters for both wood and hay, without the pesky need for permits and such. This also explains the “cluster” of homes you will see on the same property. Great-Great Grandpa claimed a chunk of the holler, Junior put a house next to his, and now the great grandkids, and assorted cousins have moved in mobile homes, and passed those around and down. Reason # 999 that viewing potential purchase property in person is a must.
6. Hunting is considered normal. Going hand in hand with this is a strong support for 2nd Amendment rights that exists in the area. Bagging a deer in the fall, or setting up a gun range on your own land won’t alarm the neighbors. (Check state regulations, in our state, you can legally shoot on your own property of 10 acres or more. YMMV in other areas). Deer, squirrel and wild rabbits inhabit the area, and the occasional duck can still be found.
7. Predominately conservative values. While no place is perfect, conservative sentiments run deep in Appalachia. Small churches are prevalent (primarily various forms of Baptist, Pentecostal, although there are scatterings of other Protestant denominations and Catholics within commuting distance). The 2nd Amendment and personal rights are highly respected. This leads to public school still being a viable option. I can only speak to my school district (again, YMMV). The Pledge of Allegiance is still recited every morning. Vo Ag classes are still offered. While the schools are somewhat hampered by federal regulations, the teachers come from the local community, and families that have been here for generations. There are no pro LBGT or trans indoctrination lessons, civics lessons are presented in a factual manner, without overt partisanship. The school nurse does not dispense birth control or abortion advice. Drag Queen story hour has not invaded the public libraries or kindergarten classes. 4-H and FFA clubs abound, the county fair is a summer highlight. If public school is a potential option for you, it’s another reason to choose your property carefully- there are country properties that fall into larger city school districts- something to avoid. I recommend looking for a district located in a very small town, as the majority of students will be from the surrounding rural area.
8. The barter economy is alive and well. As always with barter, it’s a matter of finding somebody who needs what you have, and has what you want. Browsing Craigslist for ads that say “may trade”, or posting your own “willing to trade” is the fastest way to secure large scale barters- we have successfully traded a gun (which we have an excess of) for a wood splitter (which we needed). Small scale barter also exists, but due to the large population of extended families who have lived here and known each other for generations, it takes a while to “break into” the more informal barter system. Your neighbors need to get to know you before they start offering to trade milk for eggs.
9. Boundaries are irregular. Appalachia was claimed, settled, land was handed down, divided up. Combined with a hilly wooded terrain leading people to build in the bottoms rather than on the ridges, this led to nothing being nice and square. Expect to find narrow deep tracts, sometimes coming in odd shapes. Our property is over 16 acres, with a whole 700 feet of road frontage. We can see our neighbors on either side. However, it runs deep, up a couple of hills filled with woods, down the other side to a creek, up another hill to the boundary with the 20 acres behind us. Such topography allows ample hidden space for building alternate structures and “guerrilla” gardening. We have a kitchen garden visible from the road and a couple of apple trees, with a second, larger garden and orchard up the hill in a clearing, and several scatterings of perennials we let go wild among the trees.
10. Thanks to mainstream media, the region has gained a reputation of being a drug-infested haven, with some even going to far as to calling a “big white ghetto”. While the influx of cheap heroin, fentanyl, and prescription drugs has wreaked havoc on the cities and smaller towns, the rural areas are still home to hard working, friendly people. Again, it’s a matter of choosing your property wisely. Look for a property where the neighbors take care of theirs, with appraised values indicative of appreciation. The auditor’s web site is a gold mine of information when it comes to this.
In summary, if the American Redoubt in the Inland Northwest isn’t for you, then take a good look at the Appalachian Redoubt. Secure your means of support, choose your property wisely, and we’ll see ya’ round the holler.