Tucked between Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the far western edge of Maryland’s panhandle, rural Garrett County (population 29,460) is a study in contrasts. Driving along one of its few main roads on a cool summer day, one passes fast-food restaurants and aging strip malls, small family farms, a big box store. Then a valley opens up on either side, bathed in Appalachia’s green beauty.
Up at Deep Creek Lake, in the heart of the county, multimillion-dollar homes and fast-multiplying condos fuel a more than $300 million tourism economy. Meanwhile, many county residents work seasonal and low-wage jobs at tourist-friendly restaurants, hotels and resorts, and the county faces a child-poverty rate of 19 percent, compared with 14 percent of all Maryland children. Dependent on industries such as health care, light manufacturing and farming, in addition to tourism, Garrett County’s median household income is about two-thirds the state average.