Caitlin Tan

Inside Appalachia's Folklife Reporter

Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.  

Caitlin comes from a rural mountain town in Western Wyoming. She grew up ski racing, showing her horses in 4-H and moving cows in the high mountain deserts. It was in this town she discovered her love for journalism. Caitlin’s career began in print, interning for the local newspaper. She went on to write and eventually worked as news editor at the Branding Iron newspaper, part of the University of Wyoming, where she later graduated with a B.A. in journalism.

Although she was always an avid listener to NPR, she found her love for public radio journalism as an intern with Wyoming Public Media. After, Caitlin spent a whirlwind summer as a fisheries reporter in Bristol Bay, Alaska - international sockeye salmon capital - working for KDLG, the local NPR affiliate station. She was a solo-correspondent based in Naknek - a Native village of 500 people - where she climbed on commercial fishing boats and trudged the rainy, muddy beaches to find the fishing scoop.

This job helped her land a producing internship, and later a job as news assistant for NPR’s All Things Considered in D.C. She worked closely with the entire team - helping to produce everything from a manicly decorated Christmas house to live interviews with U.S. senators to an exclusive interview with fashion designer Alexander Wang.

All along, Caitlin always knew she wanted to return to feature reporting in a rural area. As shown from her fisheries reporting, she loves to immerse herself in new cultures. So when the Inside Appalachia folklife position opened up she jumped at the opportunity. Caitlin and her Border Collie up and moved to Morgantown, WV. As someone who grew up in a rural area, Caitlin understands the value and heritage of tradition and craftsmanship in a culture. She’s very eager to further her knowledge, as well as engage and report on folklife in Appalachia.

 

Ways to Connect

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

American soul singer legend and West Virginia native Bill Withers has died at 81 of heart complications, unrelated to coronavirus, according to the Associated Press. In a statement released to the AP, Withers’ family said he died Monday in Los Angeles. 

New River Gorge Bridge
Chad Matlick / WVPB

Three national parks in West Virginia closed their facilities at noon on Tuesday in response to COVID-19.

Campgrounds and restrooms in New River Gorge National River, Gauley River National Recreation Area and Bluestone National Scenic River are closed indefinitely. 


West Virginia Mask Army

Across the country, medical professionals fighting the coronavirus pandemic are struggling to get their hands on protective gear – things as basic as goggles, gloves and masks – and without federal assistance, groups of West Virginians are handmaking face masks at their own expense.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past two years, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia team has been working on a folkways project that focuses on artisans and craftsmen within Appalachia.

For many of these people, their art or craft is their primary income, and a lot of them depend on social events, like concerts, farmers markets and craft fairs. In this new world of coronavirus and social distancing, that is proving difficult.

A view of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, which is part of the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West VIrginia.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The largest national forest in West Virginia announced Wednesday it is shutting down its campgrounds in an attempt to encourage people to social distance.

The Monongahela National Forest has closed all of its 24 developed campgrounds and campsites effective immediately. 


West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past few months, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia Folkways Project has cultivated a connection between two groups of people thousands of miles away — high schools in Lincoln County, West Virginia and in Merthyr Tydfill, Wales.


Courtesy Berkeley County Schools

Schools across West Virginia closed Monday, March 16, for at least two weeks in an effort to help stem the transmission of the coronavirus. 

Since the shutdown was announced, West Virginians around the state have been working to make sure students are fed. According to the West Virginia Department of Education, more than two-thirds  of school-aged children, or more than 183,000, qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. 

Cecelia Mason / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Check back here for the latest coverage on the coronavirus.

Communities in Southern West Virginia worked to feed kids Monday, the first day schools were closed in an effort to slow the potential spread of the coronavirus.


Wikimedia Commons

One of West Virginia’s largest public water utilities announced Friday it is making adjustments because of the potential spread of coronavirus.


West Virginia Department of Natural Resources

The West Virginia elk reintroduction program is four years in, and the project is not growing as fast as expected; however, there is a herd in the Southern Coalfields that is slowly getting bigger. 


Concord University's Marsh Hall Bell Tower.
Christopher Ziemnowicz / CZmarlin / wikimedia Commons

Concord University has announced it will extend its current spring break by a week, until March 20, to curtail the potential spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, coming on the tail end of Marshall University's and West Virginia University's similar announcements. 


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The 2020 West Virginia legislative session has ended with no new legislation addressing black lung benefits, leaving former and current coal miners to depend on waning federal benefits to combat the lifelong disease.  


HIV Test
Adobe Stock

A West Virginia organization called Community Education Group was recently awarded $500,000 to combat the spread of HIV in the state. 


Office of Gov. Jim Justice

Officials from the West Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that an extinct species native to West Virginia were restored.


nasa.gov

The West Virginia woman behind much of NASA’s 20th century space accomplishments died Monday at 101 years old. 


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Old-time music is a large part of West Virginia’s heritage – it is the folk music of the state. And although it has now gained the popularity of people from all over the world, hundreds of years ago it was isolated within Appalachian communities. However, as it gains traction, some people think the uniqueness is lost. 

In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Caitlin Tan explores the master-apprentice relationship in the old-time music community.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In rural Preston County, West Virginia, potter Mel Sword’s house is located at the end of a gravel road, near a road called "Wildflower Way" and a creek that feeds into the Cheat River. His home nestles rolling fields of green grass, and behind that are mounds of dirt, clay that to Sword is half the reason he bought this property about ten years ago.

Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flooding in the past week has once again consumed much of southern West Virginia, with Gov. Jim Justice signing a state of emergency proclamation for seven counties on Friday. 

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

Deep within the mountains of central West Virginia, is a tiny village called Helvetia. It was originally founded by Swiss settlers in the mid-1800s, as they felt the steep mountains, thick forests, winding river, all resembled their homeland.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began Jan 9, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It is the second year since its conception, and most notably, it is limited to primitive weapons - like flintlock muzzle loader rifles. 


The 66th Mountaineer, Timmy Eads, in the 2019 WVU Homecoming parade.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University’s mascot, the Mountaineer, is a big deal in the state. In fact, fans are called ‘Mountaineer Nation.’ West Virginians have long identified with the mascot as it symbolizes independence, strength and curiosity -- a true frontiersman attitude. 


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flea markets are a common feature across rural landscapes, especially in Appalachia. If you have never been, there is typically something for everyone, and one West Virginian artist is turning the unique finds into art. 

“Sometimes it’s the imagery. A portion of my work has an industrial aspect to it, and I don’t mean just the materials, but the imagery,” Robert Villamagna said.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Little creatures are popping up on the streets of downtown Fayetteville, W.Va. People might find them hiding in trees, behind bushes, on benches or even inside local shops.

“Cause at this point, we’re like a gnome explosion,” said Tabitha Stover, Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia folklore includes many alien and monster-like characters, such as Mothman, Big Foot and the Yeti. One such monster has made a big resurgence in the past few years, becoming a part of the state’s pop culture.


Paul Williams (left) helps Scott build his 'backpack' guitar. It has a smaller body, meant to easily fit in a pack.
Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, late summer night in the small town of Hindman, Kentucky. The sun is setting against the backdrop of the steep Appalachian Mountains. Musicians are warming up for the Knott County Downtown Radio Hour. 

It is essentially a recorded open mic hosted once a month by the Appalachian School of Luthiery, a school that teaches people how to build wooden stringed instruments. Doug Naselroad is the founder and the master luthier of the program.


A view of the Monogahela River in Morgantown, W.Va., from beside Woodburn Hall, on West Virginia University's Downtown Campus.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Inside Appalachia’s What’s in a Name segment explores the history and folklore of the names of Appalachian places. For the latest segment, we dug a little deeper into a debate we’ve had here in our newsroom -- the origins of the name of one of our rivers --- and how to pronounce it.

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This summer in Morgantown, elementary school students had access to  a special summer art camp series almost every week.

Last week, students learned a  story telling art form rooted in Appalachian tradition called crankies. Crankies are also sometimes called moving panoramas, as they are a drawing or painting that can be manually moved and is portrayed within a box.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, muggy day along the Monongahela river. Zoma Archambault is standing on a small, sandy beach about 10 minutes from Morgantown. It is one of the few along the river, as much of it is covered in thick brush and mud.

The beach used to be an informal camp spot. Zoma found it abandoned, with trash covering the ground in every direction. It is almost all picked up now, aside from some muddy clothes, a couple hypodermic needles and roof shingles.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Just about any search on Google for “best white water rafting” includes West Virginia. Around 150,000 people commercially raft a West Virginia river each year, mostly on the New River and Gauley River, which are near Fayetteville, West Virginia. At one point there were just less than 30 rafting companies in the area. Today, they have consolidated into six adventure businesses. 

Jesse Wright

Some of the names of places in Appalachia have a long history, dating back to the 1600s. The history and story behind a name can get lost over time – leading us to question how a place got its name.

One such place is Coopers Rock state forest, located outside of Morgantown. Who was Cooper? Was he a real person? Did he live there?

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