During the 150+ years of Mason County history, the ways that we make our living have changed and adapted time and again. Our industrious county has been peopled with those who have creativity, a great work ethic, and a willingness to take chances. Sometimes things worked in our favor, sometimes,,, not so much.
Cattle, sheep and goats have ebbed and flowed as the primary driver of the economy in the county over the years. Variables such as market prices, droughts and shrinking acreages have pushed Mason County ranchers to experiment with new breeds, new stocking plans and new alliances in order to remain profitable, or at least viable.
Farming has also had its own checkered history in the area. Many places in the county have such shallow soil that only small plots were available, and even then, only after a great deal of labor clearing out rocks and obstacles. In the areas of the county with deep soil, there have been times of cotton, peanuts, watermelons, canteloupes, vegetables,,, whatever would grow was planted, harvested and marketed.
During the 1950s and 1960s, ranchers and farmers were buoyed by the increased production offered by deeper wells and improved irrigation techniques. During these years, many families found their situations greatly improved by the added bounty they were able to produce and were able to build new homes and to incorporate the basic necessities into their lives for the first time. But, just as with the livestock, changing markets pushed farmers into either all new products, or completely out of farming.
In recent years, there have been other hints of what Mason County may be able to explore as future economic drivers. There is the exploration of frac sand. There is the concept of wind power turbines. Both have their champions, and both have their opponents. Time will tell.
But, there are some things that have been present in Mason County throughout our history that we have found to be dependable, though variable, throughout the years.
Our abundant wildlife, particularly whitetail deer, are known and respected around the state. The income from the hunting industry fills coffers of landowners, retail stores, restaurants and gas stations. Downturns in the national economy have a direct correlation to the money that hunters can spend in Mason County, so we have now found that even that linchpin of our economy can also be bent out of shape as disposable income among the hunting crowd becomes tighter.
Closely related to the hunting industry is the tourism trade. Mason's scenic landscape, as well as its architectural beauties, brings cars, trucks, busses and RVs to our town throughout the year. Though we have limited retail stores, they have all found ways to appeal to both local and visiting customers and have been able to provide the goods and services needed by both throughout the year. We may not be as crowded as some of our neighbors to the south; but, we have found a happy balance of people to opportunity that keeps everyone smiling during their stays.
Again, tourism is an industry that is subject to the ravages of the national economy, and Mason County business people have had to adjust their inventory and their marketing to remain viable operations. One store may close; but, soon another will open to fill the gap. We continue on, trying what we can to get by each day.
What of tomorrow?
Mason's water is being eyed by others in the state. Its minerals attract those who hope to be part of a national drive. Its wide open spaces and scenic vistas, and comparatively low real estate prices, are attractive to retirees and young families. But, these are resources, not industries. Mason County has never had a great deal of industrial activity of any sort. Our economic prosperity has relied upon our ability to use our resources, along with our natural and man-made attractions, to create a delicate balance of visitors, hunters, explorers and entrepreneurs.
It's a new world out there and Mason County is still finding its way in that world. We have looked to our past, realized what worked and what didn't, and we have moved forward with new plans and new ideas that will allow us the opportunity to continue living our lives here in as comfortable a fashion as possible.
Is it the wine and grape industry? Is it topaz, frac sand, building stone or some other mineral resource? Maybe it is a new type of crop or produce that our fertile soils and abundant water can provide to a waiting population.
Whatever direction Mason County goes, I know that the people who live here will find a way to do it together, and in a way that most benefits the greatest number of our people. That's simply who we are.
It’s all just my opinion.