Back in January, Virginia Tech sophomore Emelia Delaporte gathered up some friends and hit the open road of U.S. Highway 460.

As a writer for The Collegiate Times, “I went to Bluefield, West Virginia, for a day-trip project,” said Delaporte, who has written multiple articles for the student-run newspaper. “When I got there and saw what the town looked like, I shifted it to a piece about socioeconomic issues in that area. I got to interview a few small business owners and residents which was very eye-opening.”

Bluefield is yet another mountain town that fell victim to urban blight. Decades of mistreatment and misfortune have turned the coalfields ghostly and somber, reducing this culturally rich area to a shell of its communal potential. Delaporte wants to change that.

Originally from Florida, Delaporte came to Blacksburg as a first-year student in 2021. Pursuing dual degrees in multimedia journalism and professional and technical writing, her minor is natural resources recreation and biodiversity conservation. This combination allows her to weave together her strong writing skills and her environmental passion.

Delaporte, a VT Honors student, sat down in Cheatham Hall, home of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, to answer questions about her quest. She seemed to know every student or professor who walked by as she tackled questions about wildlife conservation. Delaporte treasures the outdoors and sees it as the laboratory where she can navigate through her interests in both communication and conservation.

“I’ve always grown up hiking and camping,” she quipped, seated in the corner of a natural resources lab. “I think [being and working outside] was just always meant to be a part of my constitution.”

While Delaporte mentioned that she enjoys the picturesque views at the Cascades and Bald Knob, she prides herself on engaging in what she deemed as “nitty-gritty environmental work.” Delaporte recently spent time combating chronic wasting disease (CWD) detected in the deer population in Southwest Virginia. This included the less-than-glamorous process of cutting open deer heads during hunting season. The disease, which surfaces in a deer’s lymph nodes, leaves the animal in a zombified state. With deer playing a vital role in Virginia’s ecosystem, CWD poses a real threat to the region’s flora and fauna. 

Opening day of deer season serves as a highlighted recreational moment in this region. Delaporte spent that day working behind the Willis Village Mart in Floyd County, greeting hunters and spreading awareness about CWD. 

“Folks who caught a deer had to bring it to us by the end of the day,” she said. “We would bag the nodes and send them off to the testing center for evaluation.” 

Delaporte completed more aesthetically pleasing philanthropic work with the Marching Virginians, Virginia Tech’s marching band. The band engages in a competitive canned food drive each fall with the Montgomery County Christmas Store. Delaporte said the band members divided themselves by the instruments they play in order to see which faction could collect the most donated items. This classic battle between woodwinds, percussion, and brass was “cutthroat,” according to Delaporte, but the competition helped the local community.

Throughout the interview, Delaporte’s responses drifted back to Appalachia. A proud Hokie, she cannot help but notice those gorgeous blue ridges on the Drillfield’s horizon. Delaporte sees the New River Valley as one incredible backyard and added that she wishes more students would go explore it.

“Even just in Blacksburg, you can skip 15 miles down 460 and you’re in Giles County,” she said. “There’s 37,000 of us here, but I don’t think enough of us take the time to get out of the Blacksburg bubble and go see what else this region has to offer.”

Delaporte’s work with The Collegiate Times blurs the line between lifestyle and travel correspondence. She has written about local areas, such as Floyd, Virginia, which is a mere Hokie Stone’s throw away from Blacksburg. Her comprehensive travel guide gave students insight and motivation to get outside and disconnect from the college scene for a while.

“I equate it [the Blacksburg bubble] to a foreign exchange student in a new country or a child on a military base,” Delaporte said. “If you’re only going to stay on base, then what is the point of moving there?”

The piccolo-player-turned-travel-liaison raises a fair point. Small towns – for example, Bluefield, Virginia and Bluefield, West Virginia – will continue to struggle if the best and brightest younger folks continue to choose to leave after getting more education or developing a specific skill in a trade.

The message seems simple: visit that town a few miles over. Walk in that antique store. Eat at that mom and pop restaurant. Order the special. Splurge and get the peach cobbler; maybe even order two. Contact some friends. Go for a hike. In the process, say "Hi" to Delaporte if you happen to catch sight of her on those mountain trails.

Written by Jacob Sawyers, student writer for the School of Communication