Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992
By Robert Flanders
The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, have come to mean desolation and despair, the ultimate in pessimism. They have not ridden in the Ozarks for a long time. At this moment in Ozarks history, horsemen of optimism seem to be in the saddle here.
They are represented by an expanding economy, an end of stultifying isolation, more apparent opportunity for the children to stay home to make a life, and advantages of both urbanity and rurality without the disadvantages of either. Despite entrenched hardships for many, our time seems the best of times.
Ozarkers remain who in the past would have fled, many who did flee have returned, and a host of others, anything but "natives," have retired here. These "remainees," "returnees," and "retirees" differ from predecessors of other generations: they are more cosmopolitan; they have different expectations; they have more money; and there are a lot more of
A fourth group, newcomers to the Ozarks below the age of retirement, are here by their own choice or by employer assignment. Sometimes called "come heres,"--a descriptive if inelegant term--they have revolutionized the Ozarks.
Taken together the impact of these groups constitutes a fifth apocalyptic horsemen in the region. His name is Population Explosion.
But unlike the ghastly colors of the biblical steeds, the fifth horse is golden--or so he seems. Vaulting expectations for a better material life and the virtual disappearance of self-sufficient farming as a way of life might well have depopulated the rural and small town Ozarks after World War II.
Instead, a great shift in land use has had the opposite effect. Water, wilderness, climate, scenery, and the mystique attached to the Ozarks and its people, as well as other attractions, have in the past generation brought about the greatest population growth for a non-metropolitan American region.
A burgeoning travel and tourism industry operating virtually year-round, together with big government establishments and a variety of new industries, support an historic rise in land prices and job creation. The fifth horse has indeed been golden.
But the Ozarks has been the Ozarks because of its distinctive low population density, always a basic appeal for natives and newcomers alike. As a rural youth put it with characteristic simplicity and directness, "Lots of people in cities--I just don't like a lot of people around."
Can we have it both ways?
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