Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Following Cherokee Footpaths

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

A quest to document and preserve Southern Appalachia’s indigenous trails

By Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

Hundreds of years ago, before interstate highways drove through the mountains, a network of trails winding around the Southern Appalachians served as the arteries of the sovereign Cherokee nation. Carved by man and beast alike, the trails evolved following the curves and contours of the land.

Lamar Marshall, cultural heritage director of Wild South, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the South’s wild places, has spent the last eight years pairing historical maps, surveys, journals and oral histories with geospatial mapping technology to bring this vast interconnected web to life. A background in engineering and land surveying provides him with an expertise in map reconstruction — a lifetime as an outdoorsman gives him everything else.

“What really got me was reading about Native Americans and how free they were,” Marshall says. “They lived off the land, they were totally independent and self-sufficient before the Anglos came in. I just admired the way they could live in the outdoors.”

Winding around the Appalachians with very little help from my GPS to Marshall’s homestead in Cowee, N.C., I soon found that his admiration extends far beyond that of a casual scholar; Lamar and his wife Kathleen live almost completely off the land.

Luckily, Marshall sensed my status as a city-dweller and had sent me in-depth instructions to his little house on the mountainside. After only three wrong turns and one stop for directions, I was pulling up their driveway with a trio of baying hounds close behind.

1747 map

A 1747 canvas map of the Provinces of North and South Carolina drawn by Englishman Emanuel Bowen. It shows several historic Cherokee towns and settlements. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall

“Most of the food we eat is either hunted or grown out back in our organic garden,” Marshall says as we walk into his house. “Deer season starts up soon so we’ll have to make some space in our freezers. Remind me to give you a few bags of veggies.”

Walking upstairs to his office, Marshall pushes aside a heavy blanket that he says prevents their small but powerful wood stove from overheating the bedroom.

Countless papers and artifacts are stacked around his office, with just enough room for two people to sit in front of the four monitors lining the desk. Near the window hang several name badges from conferences where Marshall has presented his life’s work.

Various scans of 18th-century era maps and journals pop up on the monitors as the computer starts up. Marshall double checks the Wi-Fi hotspot on his phone; the fact that the internet company has yet to extend their service this far up the road hardly slows him down.

“In 1991, I moved into the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama, and the [U.S. Forest Service] was mowing it down,” Marshall says. “They were cutting down 200-year-old hardwood ridges, replacing them with monocultures of loblolly pine. Converted 90,000 acres into these plantations.”

Except it wasn’t just trees they were cutting down, Marshall explains. One of those clearcuts exposed Indian Tomb Hollow, an archaeological site in the heart of Bankhead National Forest sacred to regional Native Americans. Looters soon invaded the area and dug up several of the graves.

Outraged, the Blue Clan of the Echota Cherokee teamed up with Marshall and other locals to form the publication Bankhead Monitor and the nonprofit group Wild Alabama, with the goal of preventing future clearcutting of sensitive areas. Their efforts led to the protection of roughly 180,000 acres in the Bankhead National Forest.

In 2007, Wild Alabama became Wild South, an Asheville-based nonprofit that currently has more than 15,000 members dedicated to preserving the South’s environmental and cultural landscape. Since its inception, Wild South has helped protect half a million acres of land and numerous species of wildlife in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and beyond.

Delving into the Archives

With grants and a seal of approval from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Marshall and his team from Wild South have used archival records to map well over 1,000 miles of Cherokee foot trails and around 60 historic Cherokee towns and settlements in the last eight years.

“I not only map the trails and towns, but we also go to archives all over the East, including the National Archives in D.C., photographing old records to the extent that I have over 100,000 images,” Marshall says. “Instead of trying to pick and choose records, we go box to box and photograph them all for study when we get back. We’d never have time to go through them all when you’re at the archive.”

“By reading these old documents, letters and affidavits, you glean out these tidbits of geography and ecology,” he continues. “You begin to put together the big picture: that the trail system is continental wide.”

These files don’t just gather dust on Marshall’s hard drive, either. Every archival document he photographs is gifted to the Qualla Boundary Public Library in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for genealogical research.

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall

Russell Townsend, tribal historic preservation officer with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, says his work has benefitted greatly from having access to these files.

“We use those archive materials daily to research Cherokee history and culture,” Townsend says. “They run the gamut from some of the earliest English activity in the area in the late 1600s up to [Bureau of Indian Affairs] activities in the 20th century.”

“The knowledge gained from them is really important because it shows [the Cherokee foot trails] connected these communities in ways that the automobile roads don’t,” Townsend continues. “You realize that some places divided today by a 15 or 20 mile drive around a long ridge was really just four or five miles of a hard walk. Back in the 20th century and before, that kind of hike was nothing. So really a lot of communities are more connected historically than we thought, and that affects linguistic patterns, cultural patterns, material patterns — everything.”

Stepping Through Time

After exploring the history behind the trails, Marshall and I drive to the Needmore State Lands to hike a section of an ancient Cherokee foot path that eventually became part of the Trail of Tears.

Coming to a stop by a swinging foot bridge, we cross the Little Tennessee River and begin our trek through the trees. Marshall deftly outpaces me as I attempt to fend off the thorny underbrush. Reaching the edge of the trail, I stop next to Marshall as a feeling of reverence settles over me.

“What you’re seeing right here are the exact mountains, the exact views that the Cherokee thousands of years ago saw,” Marshall says, looking off into the distance. “This is the vantage point where they were when they moved through the woods. To me, this isn’t just something that connects you to the past — it’s a portal to it.”

The path is clearly defined, with banks up to four feet high carved by a millennia of hooves and silent footfalls. A resounding crunch amplifies each step I take through the autumn river of leaves.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.

Once a Cherokee foot trail has been mapped and turned over to the U.S. Forest Service, Marshall tells me, it is automatically protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 until it has been studied for its significance. Afterwards it can be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these trails are open to the public, save for the sections that run through private land. Many continue to be in use today as roads and hiking paths.

Due to its status as a Trail of Tears corridor, Marshall informs me, the trail we are walking on will almost certainly be nominated.

“There’s no way to tell how old these trails are,” he says. “They say Paleo-Indians got here 13,000 years ago. Now I don’t know if they’re that old, but it dates at the very least back to the Mississippian culture [between 800 CE and 1600 CE].”

“This is a natural walkway, too,” Marshall continues. “The buffalo could’ve even tunneled it. This right here is a jewel, it’s priceless. Not only to the Cherokees, but to everybody. And it could’ve easily gotten bulldozed away if we hadn’t identified it, mapped it and turned it into the state.”

To date, Marshall has mapped over 1,000 miles of trail with GIS and topographic maps and field-mapped over 200 miles by foot. He inputs each trail’s GIS data into a yet unfinished ArcGIS Story Map with the hope that it can eventually be used as an educational tool. Its completed form will have narrative, text, images and multimedia content layered over the trail network to provide a glimpse into our region’s past. Samples of the maps Marshall has created are available on the Wild South website. Out of respect for the Cherokee people, no sensitive, sacred or archaeological sites are shared with the public.

1837 U.S. Army map

As this 1837 U.S. Army map to the left shows, Brush Creek was once known as Raven Creek. This map was used by Marshall to help put together the storied history behind the trail section we hiked. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall.

To thank him for his contributions to Cherokee cultural preservation, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gave him a name: Usdi-nvno Awatisgi, or “Trail Finder.”

“It’s really cool when you look at a map and see how interconnected things really were,” Russell Townsend of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says. “There are stories about people who traveled on them regularly, various incidents that happened on them that are prominent to our history and culture. I think our elders are very pleased that the knowledge of these old foot trails is not going to be lost.”

To view some of the maps Lamar Marshall has created and find out more about the Cherokee journey, visit

Public Pushback Against Appalachian Natural Gas Pipelines

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

Critics cite flaws in Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental review process

By Molly Moore

pipeline easement illustration

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is seeking an amendment to the Jefferson National Forest Plan that would reclassify 186 acres of old growth forest as a 500-foot-wide “utility corridor.” This image simulates a such a corridor from the perspective of Giles High School in Giles County, Va. Illustration courtesy Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, nine individuals gathered in the small town of Elliston, Va., for a meeting of the eastern chapter of Preserve Montgomery County VA, a grassroots group formed in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline. Some attendees had known each other for years, while others shook hands for the first time. But these individuals shared at least two things in common: all lived along the steep slopes and rolling ridgelines that distinguish Central Appalachia, and all were opposed to a new natural gas pipeline slicing through their home county.

Dozens of major new gas transmission pipelines are proposed for construction across the eastern United States. Two of these, each 42 inches in diameter, are slated to cross the steep slopes and abundant streams of the Appalachian Mountains while carrying high-pressure natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to companies in Virginia and North Carolina. Since applications for the projects were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — in September 2015 by the public utilities backing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and in October 2015 by the private companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline — communities along the route have raised the alarm.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would stretch from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County along Virginia’s southern border, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from Harrison and Lewis Counties, also in northern West Virginia, across Virginia to Robeson County on the southeastern edge of North Carolina.

Both would tie in to the Transco Pipeline, which extends between Texas and New York. Transco also connects to a recently approved natural gas export facility in Maryland, opening the possibility that this gas could go to overseas markets.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would also each require the construction of between three and four compressor stations — industrial facilities that maintain pressure throughout the system but pose concentrated health and environmental risks to nearby communities.

Common Cause

In places like Montgomery County, Va., some residents who might have different perspectives on other issues are united in their opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Community member Ellen Darden serves as the volunteer co-chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights — a coalition of local groups along the proposed route of the MVP. “[It’s] totally nonpartisan,” she says of the group’s name. “It’s really all about water, heritage and rights because those were the elements that were important to different groups and we wanted that represented.”

The coalition is working alongside environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

Many of the residents are outraged at the prospect of losing the use of their land to gas companies or utilities while facing the likelihood of diminishing property values.

“The thing about going through properties, in addition to environmental destruction, is we’re in hollers. The only flat land you have is down by the creek,” says Anita Puckett, a member of Preserve Montgomery County VA. “They want to run it down by the creek because it’s easier to build, so they’re leasing prime farmland, garden land, house-building land.”

In eastern Montgomery County, the MVP would claim a right-of-way through a flat portion of resident Jim Law’s land that he intends to use as a future homesite for his granddaughters. Roughly 100 miles further east, the ACP would bisect a pasture on Carlos Arostegui’s dairy farm.

Other nearby citizens cite worries about the risks that high-pressure gas poses to their homes, farms and lives. Natural gas transmission pipelines can be constructed with thinner walls and with shutoff valves spaced further apart in more sparsely populated areas, increasing the safety risk to nearby landowners.

Environmental impacts are also of concern to many. The construction process involves heavy truck traffic, clear-cutting, and crossing and tunneling beneath waterways, which leads to sedimentation and stream disturbances. Both the MVP and ACP would also traverse fragile karst topography, a porous limestone bedrock that amplifies the risk that groundwater would be affected.

New pipelines also have implications for global climate change. Methane is released during natural gas drilling and transmission and has a climate-altering potential 86 times greater than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after emission.

Locally, the projects would negatively affect viewsheds and tourism, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. After months of attempting to collaborate with pipeline officials and other stakeholders to minimize risks, in November 2016 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy concluded that it is “strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.”

In contrast, pipeline backers emphasize potential for construction jobs and tax revenue — a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by MVP anticipated that a four-year construction phase would contribute to roughly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

According to the ACP’s website, that pipeline would generate $8.3 million in property tax revenue in 2018, a figure that would rise and top $30 million each year by 2025, when considering all three states. But different projections were reached in a 2016 study by Key-Log Economics, LLC, which predicted the pipeline would result in a net loss of property taxes.

The ACP has the explicit support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and President-Elect Donald Trump’s First 100 Days platform calls for removing barriers to new energy infrastructure projects. But even with such high-profile support, the pipelines still face regulatory and potential legal hurdles.

Federal Procedure

Before breaking ground, interstate pipeline projects must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, so instead of relying on financial support from taxpayers, it is funded by fees from the companies it regulates. Pipeline opponents nationwide have alleged that this is a conflict of interest that favors industry.

Since 2009, FERC has approved 170 major natural gas pipelines, though the commission isn’t obligated to review whether or not these pipelines are needed.

Yet even if FERC approves a pipeline, it’s not a done deal. Privately financed projects like the MVP still need to find and retain financial backing. Pipelines can also be denied at a state level even if they have federal approval — in April 2016, the state of New York halted construction on the Constitution Pipeline by denying a water-quality permit.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FERC is required to prepare an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of significant projects like these and to assess alternatives, as well as consider public input before making a decision and issuing a final environmental review. At FERC, these documents are often prepared by contractors and subcontractors who are paid directly by the gas companies or utilities.

FERC has been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for repeatedly accepting environmental assessments for new pipelines that the EPA deems insufficient. In October, the EPA issued a letter charging that FERC’s review of the LeachXPress pipeline — which would carry natural gas through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — omitted significant information.

The environmental review process is intended to give the public a chance to be heard by submitting public comments or attending formal in-person FERC listening sessions. The draft environmental review for the MVP was released on Sept. 16 and the deadline for public comment set for Dec. 22. Release of the ACP’s draft environmental assessment is expected in December 2016. [Editor’s note: The ACP environmental review was released Dec. 30. Read the full draft here and environmental groups’ press statement here.]

Residents across the country can submit comments for interstate pipelines like MVP and ACP. But the effectiveness of public comments also depends on how thorough the initial assessment is — for instance, if the draft doesn’t describe how pipeline builders plan to mitigate landslides, it’s harder for local residents to weigh in on whether that plan is sufficient. Attendees at FERC’s seven public listening sessions held along the MVP route in November stated that the draft environmental statement was “woefully inadequate.”

Incomplete Review

In October, the nonprofit law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates submitted a letter to FERC outlining shortcomings in the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement. The 15-page letter, sent on behalf of 27 conservation and community groups, called on the agency to revise or supplement the draft and questioned whether the MVP was even necessary.

According to Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, FERC published an incomplete review. “FERC even acknowledges it still needs information about impacts on drinking water sources, as well as important streams and wetlands,” he stated in a press release. “The public must have access to this crucial information if its review of FERC’s analysis is to have any meaning.”

In its application, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, stated that it has secured contracts for the two billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas it would transport each day. Yet separate studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commissioned by Appalachian Voices, and by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., both concluded that pipelines carrying gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are being overbuilt and that there is enough pipeline capacity to meet demand until 2030.

The Appalachian Mountain Advocates letter also points out that some information — such as surveys for a proposed route change — can be omitted until the end of the comment period, and even more information can be withheld until after FERC grants a certificate of approval. These components include plans for avoiding active mines, mitigating landslides, installing permanent culverts and permanently filling waterbodies and wetlands along the route.

There are many organizations resisting the pipelines, and those listed below can also help identify local groups in your area. Learn more or submit a comment asking FERC to reject the MVP at

  • Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Coalition of local groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
  • Appalachian Voices: Advocacy organization fighting against the ACP and MVP
    Visit: Call: (434) 293-6373
  • NC WARN: N.C. organization working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: Call: (919) 416-5077
  • Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: Coalition of local groups resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline
  • Speaking Out

    FERC’s seven listening sessions on the MVP were held in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania during the first part of November. Some were sparsely attended, while others had high turnout, including more than 150 attendees in Roanoke, Va.

    Instead of speaking publicly before attendees and the commission as is the custom for public forums, individuals were led into a room with just a FERC official and a stenographer, an atmosphere that Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer with Appalachian Voices, calls “sterile and disempowering.”

    Yet as attendees met with FERC individually, community groups and the Sierra Club Virginia hosted alternative meeting spaces in the same building for people to share their comments with one another and learn more about the pipeline. In Weston, W. Va., local organizations also held their own forum with a stenographer taking comments in a public space so that residents could hear each other’s concerns.

    In the face of proposals like the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, building connections — whether between organizations or between neighbors — is key.

    “This is not just a local fight,” says Darden, noting that if one proposal fails, companies will likely try another route. “The [pipelines] are coming. This is just the start. And the companies just all want their own profit, there’s no collaboration, no coordination.”

    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental assessment was expected December 2017. The draft was expected in December 2016, and was released Dec. 30. Read the response to the draft from Appalachian Voices and other citizens groups.

    Reclaiming Mined Mountains to Beneficial Use

    Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    More than half a century of surface coal mining has left scars across Central Appalachia. As mining operations moved from one coal seam to another, more than a million acres were reduced to barren landscapes or replaced with gravelly grasslands. And mountaintop removal coal mining leveled more than 500 hundred mountains across Appalachia.

    At least 233,000 acres of land in Central Appalachia were damaged by mining before 1977 and are in need of reclamation, according to a 2015 analysis by Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and The Alliance for Appalachia based on federal data. This figure conveys only a fraction of the area impacted by coal production, as it does not include lands mined after 1977. But no inventory of sites mined after this date is currently available.

    Data center

    This data center at left could get its electricity from a solar project proposed for a site near the Wise County Airport in Southwest Virginia. Photo by Gerald Collins.

    “There are thousands of [abandoned mine land] features across Appalachia that still need to be addressed,” say Adam Wells, economic diversification program coordinator at Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper. “These sites are liabilities in many ways, but they are also opportunities for a new approach to economic development in Appalachia.”

    Yet determining who is responsible for recovering mined lands to a condition similar to how they were before mining — a process known as reclamation — and for making these lands useful again is a complicated issue.

    Paying for Cleanup

    On Aug. 3, 1977, the U.S. Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which established the legislation that continues to regulate coal mining today.

    The law created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and established its mission. One of the agency’s programs governs the cleanup of abandoned mine lands, a term that refers to mine sites excavated before the passage of SMCRA. To pay for this, the law created the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is financed by a tax on every ton of coal mined.

    Another program oversees environmental regulations for coal mines that started after the passage of SMCRA. The law outlines how companies should reclaim the land and gives the agency the authority to ensure companies can pay for the remediation.

    The ability to cleanup the sites mined in the 40 years since the passage of the federal law has been threatened by two related issues: bankruptcies and bonding.

    Believing that China’s demand for coal would continue to grow, beginning in 2011 many United States coal companies purchased more mines of metallurgical coal — which is used to make steel — than they could afford, including mines in Appalachia.

    When Chinese demand and the price for the coal collapsed, so did the companies that bought the mines. Three of the largest American coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past year; Alpha Natural Resources filed in August 2015, followed by Arch Coal in January 2016 and Peabody Energy in April.


    Students from Appalachian State University plant seedlings on a surface mine in Eastern Kentucky. Photo by Kylie Schmidt

    While the executives of these companies were well compensated, the corporations’ obligations for miners’ pensions and for reclamation of mine sites often went unfunded. As of April, Peabody has $1.4 billion in unfunded reclamation needs, Alpha has $640 million and Arch Coal $485 million, according to the Washington Post.

    Bankruptcy settlements have addressed only part of these debts. For example, in February 2016, regulators in Wyoming agreed to accept $75 million to forgive a reclamation debt of $485 million, according to the Associated Press. The remaining cleanup costs could fall to taxpayers.

    And on Nov. 16, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection sued Alpha Natural Resources for fraud, alleging that the company’s executives knowingly hid $100 million in debts in order to secure their bankruptcy settlement.

    “There is no doubt that the newly disclosed $100 million shortfall seriously threatens the reorganized debtors’ viability and ability to perform their legal obligations to bond and reclaim their remaining mine site,” the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection filing stated.

    At issue in all of these unfunded obligations is a practice called self-bonding. Before a mining permit is issued, federal law requires mining operators to provide a financial guarantee — or bond — large enough to cover the cost of cleanup after mining is complete. But rather than requiring a company to secure this money from an outside source, many states allow companies to self-bond. This means that they can use their own financial history as a guarantee for their ability to pay for reclamation.

    This practice has come under scrutiny after so many coal companies filed for bankruptcy while responsible for billions of dollars in unfunded cleanup costs.

    The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement began a rulemaking process in August 2016 to require a more robust analysis and review process before allowing companies to use self-bonding.

    Other forms of paying for reclamation after mining also carry risks. Several states, including Kentucky and Virginia, allow companies to use a financial structure called a “pool bond.” In this model, several companies each pay a fraction of their expected cleanup costs into a common pool, out of which reclamation costs can be paid should any of the companies go bankrupt.

    This system can support individual bankruptcies, but “the fund is completely unprepared to address the increasingly likely scenario that multiple operators holding multiple permits will decide that they can’t or won’t follow through on their reclamation commitments,” states a blog by Peter Morgan, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.

    A Case for RECLAIM

    However, none of these issues impact mine lands abandoned before the passage of the federal law. For sites mined before 1977, funding sources for reclamation work are well established, if limited.

    “In the early years, the [Abandoned Mine Land] program focused on the physical reclamation of hazards affecting coalfield communities,” states the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement website. “More recently, the program began working to reclaim the vitality of communities left impoverished and degraded by past coal mining.”

    The RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Congressman Hal Rogers (R-Ky) that is currently before the U.S. Congress, would create economic opportunities in areas historically impacted by coal mining. The bill would accelerate the release of $1 billion from taxes already paid by coal companies and invest the funds in projects such as restoring abandoned mine lands to beneficial use.


    A new study shows the potential of 14 abandoned mine land sites in Southwest Virginia to contribute to the local economy.
    Click to enlarge.

    The economic development potential of 14 abandoned mine land sites in a seven-county region of Southwest Virginia was highlighted in a November report produced by Appalachian Voices, the regional nonprofit that produces this newspaper, Downstream Strategies, an environmental consulting firm, and Coal Mining Engineering Services, a consulting firm specializing in coal mining and reclamation work.

    With funding from the RECLAIM Act, the report concludes, these sites could be repurposed to better serve the area through ecotourism, agriculture, renewable energy and commercial development.

    The goals of the study were to demonstrate the need for RECLAIM funding and recommend sustainable projects that could create good jobs on former coal mines.

    “One of our hopes for this report is to offer place-based, forward-thinking economic development opportunities that reverse the trends of extraction by investing in historically coal-reliant communities,” says report co-author Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices.

    According to Gerald Collins, a co-author of the report and owner of Coal Mining Engineering Services, LLC, there are about 50,000 acres of identified abandoned mine lands in the seven-county area. Other coal mining states in Appalachia have even more acres of impacted lands.

    “The problems are just as real [in Southwest Virginia] as they are in Kentucky and West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Collins says.

    Abandoned mine land sites are classified by OSMRE based on their level of risk to human health and safety. Priority 1 sites pose an extreme danger to human health and safety, while Priority 2 sites pose a danger to human health and safety but not an extreme one. Priority 3 sites pose environmental risks, but do not directly threaten human health and safety.

    mine portal

    All of the sites in the new study have coal mining features, such as this abandoned underground mine portal at a proposed recreational site in Haysi. Photo by Libby Bringner

    The federal law requires that Priority 1 and 2 sites must be cleaned up before funds are used to reclaim Priority 3 sites. Because there is a shortage of funds, many Priority 3 sites remain underutilized. But Collins notes that “with the RECLAIM Act, you’re looking at specifically money for [abandoned mine land] sites that have economic development potential.”

    One example highlighted in the study is a proposed solar installation on more than 400 acres of land near the Wise County Airport. Much of this land was re-mined and reclaimed since SMCRA, but several Priority 3 features remain, including a mine opening portal, that would make the parcels eligible for RECLAIM funding.

    This project already has backing from several local agencies that are eager to provide renewable energy to the area’s growing information technology industry cluster. According to the November report, the land could support a 20-megawatt solar installation and provide more than 200 local full-time jobs during construction and three permanent positions after construction.

    “There’s a lot of potential,” Evan Fedorko of Downstream Strategies says. “[Some] folks just aren’t looking for the potential, but they’re just continuing to be discouraged or despondent about [unreclaimed areas]. And there’s a lot of potential there.”

    Fedorko is particularly interested in seeing some of the mine lands reused for agricultural purposes. He says that he has encountered the misperception that all former mine land sites are unsafe for agriculture, but he insists that this is not true and that testing is available to ensure that no hazardous materials are present on a site.

    The Foxfire Farm in Dickenson County is an example. Portions of the 110-acre farm were mined during the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. According to the study, some of the land was mined after the passage of SMCRA, but before Virginia established its Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. As such, it falls in an “interim period” and is not eligible for RECLAIM funding as the bill is currently worded.

    “My property is clearly representative of the mass majority of land that has been strip mined and reclaimed,” says Tammy Owens, the owner of Foxfire Farm. “Even after almost 50 years, the land is unproductive and nowhere near what it was before it was mined.”

    Foxfire Farm

    Tammy Owens’ Foxfire Farm at left is on former mine lands that could benefit from an investment from the RECLAIM Act. Photo by Adam Wells.

    If funding were available, Owens says she would use the money to restore the topsoil to support the farm’s organic production of cultivated and wild-simulated medicinal herbs.

    The authors of the report make several recommendations, including that the wording of the RECLAIM Act should be modified so that some abandoned mine lands that were re-mined after 1977 could be eligible to apply for funding.

    Such an expansion of eligibility would increase the pool of potential sites that could be repurposed for economic development. It would also provide a chance for reclamation at sites that have fallen through the cracks.

    Restoring Forestland

    Before they were mined for coal, most Appalachian peaks and slopes were covered in forests. And many scientists, government officials and environmental advocates hope to see reforestation as part of future reclamation plans.

    Leading these efforts is the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, a coalition of citizens, industry and government representatives within the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The initiative was established in 2004 with the goal of reforesting mine lands in the eastern United States.

    Dr. Patrick N. Angel is a senior forester and soil scientist at the agency and a liaison to ARRI. But he began his career as a reclamation inspector for the state of Kentucky and became a federal inspector in 1978 after the passage of SMCRA.

    “Before the federal law, trees were growing very, very well on mine sites. But we had this problem of landslides,” says Angel. To eliminate the risk of landslides, SMCRA called for mine lands to be stabilized. But these compacted surfaces were ill-suited for growing the native trees that had existed prior to mining.

    “Basically, it created a landscape that could not return to a healthy, productive forest without serious human mitigation.”


    This 20-year-old research plot demonstrates the success of Forestry Reclamation Approach. Photo by Matt Barton

    Angel followed this approach until nearly two decades ago, when one of his forestry professors helped him realize that the choice needn’t be between safety or trees. It was possible to have both.

    Angel says that he and about a dozen other foresters, soil scientists, mining engineers and hydrologists decided to try and change how things had been done for more than 25 years. He recalls his thoughts from that time: “We got to get the mining industry to change the way they are doing reclamation. We’ve got to change the culture of what people think good reclamation looks like. It’s not golf courses, okay. It’s something altogether different.”

    Angel and his colleagues were introduced to the Forestry Reclamation Approach, which is now advocated by ARRI and its nonprofit partner Green Forests Work. This method provides guidelines for re-establishing healthy forests on formerly mined lands by establishing a thick layer of loose topsoil, minimizing competition from invasive species and carefully planting select varieties of trees.

    In 2007, researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland determined that more than 740,000 acres of previously mined land in the Eastern United States are suitable for reforestation. While the process is expensive — costing $1000-$1500 per acre, according to Angel — Green Forests Work has planted almost two million trees on nearly 3,000 acres since 2009.

    “Up to a million acres of these [former mine] lands could be reforested and a lot of the acres are slopes that you can’t develop and build on, you can’t build roads to, there’s a lot of areas that make more sense to put back into a healthy productive forest,” says Angel.

    Citizen Site Inspections

    In late August 2016, representatives of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club and Tennessee Clean Water Network participated in inspections at four mine sites in Claiborne County. The inspections took place near Straight Creek, Tackett Creek and several unnamed tributaries, where mining operators had requested a bond release.

    As a mining company completes the reclamation process, it applies for a return of the money put forward to cover the cost of cleaning up the site. According to federal rules, the release of a bond occurs in phases as the company completes different stages of reclamation.

    SMCRA requires mining companies to announce in local papers when they are requesting a bond release. Environmental groups in Tennessee monitor local papers in areas being mined so that citizens can participate in the process, as is allowed by law.

    site inspection

    Axel Ringe, conservation chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, takes a water sample at an inspection of a mine site. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Chapter of Sierra Club and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment

    According to Axel Ringe, the conservation chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club who participated in the site inspections, the group confirmed that the regrading had been done properly, took water samples from sediment ponds and checked that the vegetation species and survival rates met the reclamation plan.
    “The purpose of doing this is to get the local community people involved in the process, because they’re the ones that are most directly impacted by the mining,” Ringe says.

    Carol Judy, a local community member, participated in the inspection because of her desire for clean water. “I’ve always felt like your water data is trackable, and it’s factual,” she says. “And it gives a body a way to look at long-term water quality impacts through several different lenses.”

    Following the inspection of the Claiborne mine sites, the groups submitted their concerns to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. But as of press time in late November, they had not heard back on the status of the bond release.

    Looking Ahead

    After more than half a century of surface mining, few in the coal-bearing regions of Appalachia are unaffected by reclamation issues.

    A resident of Dickenson County, Va., who asked not to be named because he lacked permission from all landowners to speak about the site, described his frustration after working unsuccessfully for 10 years to get the effects of mining on his property cleaned up.

    Remembering how his land was once used for pasture, and dreaming of how it might one day be used for wind or solar energy generation, he says he just wants something to pass on to his grandchildren.

    “It’s not too much,” he says, “but at one time it was beneficial. Now it’s a wasteland.”

    Appalachians Against The Dakota Access Pipeline

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Willie Dodson

    More than 200 people opposed to the pipeline rallied outside an Army Corps office in Huntington, W.Va. Photos by Chad Cordell

    More than 200 people opposed to the pipeline rallied outside an Army Corps office in Huntington, W.Va. Photos by Chad Cordell

    UPDATE: On Dec. 4, the Department of the Army announced it would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, and instead would look at alternatives and conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. In a statement thanking the Obama Administration and supporters, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said, “When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.”

    Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the companies behind DAPL responded by saying they remain “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

    After the Army announcement, the Standing Rock Tribe asked supporters to return home until the winter weather clears. Some water protectors are remaining at the Camp of the Sacred Stones on private land, but have suspended the open invitation to supporters due to limited infrastructure.

    Across Appalachia, communities are supporting the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a partially constructed crude oil pipeline stretching 1,100 miles across North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

    While an earlier alternate route for the project was rejected due to concerns that it would jeopardize the water supply for the city of Bismarck, N.D., the route currently under construction is planned to go under the Missouri River along the eastern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, threatening to impact Lake Oahe, a vital source of drinking water for the tribe, and 8 million people living downstream. Additionally, DAPL construction has destroyed numerous sites sacred to the Sioux people, and portions of the pipeline route are on Sioux land that was never ceded to the United States.

    For months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request that pipeline construction be stopped went unheeded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the primary government agency responsible for permitting the project.

    During this time, tribal citizens, along with allies from over 200 indigenous nations — the largest gathering of indigenous peoples in over a century — as well as non-native supporters, set up encampments along the pipeline’s route. Referring to themselves as water protectors, these citizens are engaging in prayerful, non-violent direct action to protect their water and sacred sites from damage caused by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building DAPL. These actions have been met with tear gas, attack dogs, water cannons, rubber bullets and other projectiles from law enforcement and private security contractors.

    On Nov. 14, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would delay further construction of the pipeline until after consulting with representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a move indigenous organizers have largely dismissed as an empty gesture. In response, Energy Transfer Partners sued the Army Corps, asserting that the project had already complied with all regulatory processes.

    A demonstrator holds a sign during a Knoxville, Tenn., event that focused on the banks funding DAPL. Photo by  Lou Murrey

    A demonstrator holds a sign during a Knoxville, Tenn., event that focused on the banks funding DAPL. Photo by Lou Murrey

    Activists on the ground report that despite the Army Corps’ announcement, work continues on the pipeline, as do attacks on water protectors by militarized police and security personnel.

    In Appalachia, communities are organizing to provide material support and their physical presence on the front line, as well as to execute solidarity actions in the region.

    “I live in Ellett Valley on the North Fork of the Roanoke River, which is threatened by the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Erin McKelvy says during a phone interview conducted while she and three others traveled from Virginia to Standing Rock. “We are showing up flexible to do whatever needs to be done. In an earlier trip we helped set up a wellness center and medical infrastructure to support the encampment.”

    Thousands of people continue to flock to the frontlines answering a call to action issued by indigenous organizers. But according to North Carolina-based activist-medic Noah Morris, would-be supporters who show up unprepared and aloof to the importance of indigenous leadership can become a burden.

    “There is a call for action targeting banks like Wells Fargo, Suntrust and many others that are invested in this pipeline,” says Morris. “I’d encourage folks who don’t have specific skills to offer on the front lines to focus on doing something locally to support the struggle instead.”

    On Nov. 4, 80 people marched through downtown Knoxville, Tenn., delivering letters to representatives of Suntrust and Citibank, two banks that provide funding to Energy Transfer Partners, asking that these institutions sever all financial ties to DAPL. This was followed by at least a dozen solidarity actions across the Appalachian region on Nov. 15.

    “The protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock is an historical event. On face value it’s the fight to keep our water clean and sacred sites protected, but it’s also becoming a turning point, globally, for people to recognize the value of Indigenous lives and living in balance on Mother Earth,” says Crystal Willcuts-Cole, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

    A woman holds a sign during a the demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Huntington, W.Va. Photo by  Chad Cordell

    A woman holds a sign during a the demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Huntington, W.Va. Photo by Chad Cordell

    McKelvy and Morris stress that non-native allies should educate themselves about indigenous resistance to colonization, and heed the voices of indigenous organizers. “We’re not just fighting a pipeline. We’re fighting 500 years of settler-colonialism,” says McKelvy. “Support for native-led struggles, and support for non-native people-of-color-led struggles … it’s just what time it is.”

    On Nov. 28, the governor of North Dakota ordered the evacuation of a camp on land that indigenous leaders say is sovereign territory of the Great Sioux Nation and was never ceded to the United States, although it is currently claimed by the Army Corps. Two other camp sites are not being evicted. As of press time, as many as 2,000 United States veterans planned to gather in North Dakota to serve as “human shields” for the activists, according to The New York Times.

    To find out how to get involved with Standing Rock solidarity efforts in your community, contact

    Thoughts from Crystal Willcuts-Cole
    Crystal Willcuts-Cole is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Big Stone Gap, Va. She and two of her children held a demonstration in support of the Standing Rock water protectors in front of the Norton Virginia branch of Wells Fargo, a bank with financial ties to Energy Transfer Partners on November 15th. This caught the attention of community members who joined Willcuts-Cole for another demonstration on December 5th. Willcuts-Cole shared some of her thoughts with The Appalachian Voice.

    “The protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock is an historical event. On face value it’s the fight to keep our water clean and sacred sites protected, but it’s also becoming a turning point, globally, for people to recognize the value of Indigenous lives and living in balance on Mother Earth. People are waking up to the harsh realities of climate change. To many, Earth has only been a resource, something we can use for our own benefit, something that will make us rich. But Earth is telling us everyday, if we want life for our children and live in a balanced way, we have to change how we care for Mother Earth and each other.

    If you are a non-Native and want to be an ally at Standing Rock or in general, it has to first start with a willingness to see things from a Native perspective. A change in values from those of capitalism, egoism, and power to humility, perseverance, respect, honor, love, sacrifice, truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom is fundamental. Next, learn about the issues the Indigenous face by listening with an open heart, knowing that history books never told our side of the story and mainstream media does the same today. Lastly, bring your skills to whatever cause you feel led to. We need everyone’s support in whatever capacity they are willing to assist, whether its being present at Standing Rock, supporting those who are there, or fighting for a cause closer to home. It’s imperative to always listen to the Native elders and follow their lead. Although no matter what, please always pray for us.

    I am Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. I am an artist and freelance writer and I also have land at Standing Rock so this is a very personal issue to me. My husband and I moved to Big Stone Gap in 2008 to work at USP Lee County. We have a son and two daughters.”

    Traveling The Crooked Road

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    Heritage music trail continues to draw visitors to Southwest Virginia

    By Dave Walker

    From Clintwood to Ferrum, from Glen Lyn to Galax, The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Thousands seek out the 330 mile-long route each year to hear the sounds of America’s roots music, which gave rise to bluegrass and country traditions. Nine major venues, 60 affiliated venues and festivals, and 26 wayside exhibits delineate the trail that follows much of Route 58, along with other sites across Southwest Virginia. But throughout the Appalachian region, The Crooked Road has come to symbolize much more: how a region can leverage its cultural assets to develop a new economy.

    Music on the Crooked Road

    Tyler Hughes and his band perform at Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, Va., during the 2016 Mountains of Music Homecoming. Photo by Jennifer Meade.

    Fourteen years ago, on a January day with six inches of snow, 26 people showed up for a meeting to talk about a radical idea for Southwest Virginia — building an economic development plan around the region’s traditional music heritage. Some drove from over 100 miles away.

    “It was very surprising, and I like to say the Holy Ghost came down,” says The Crooked Road co-founder Todd Christensen. “No one was in charge and everyone got turned on to having a music trail and having traditional music as the central development piece for our entire region.”

    Christensen initiated the idea for The Crooked Road with folklorist Joe Wilson and currently serves as the first executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation. He likened the founding to a stone soup supper, where artists, musicians, folklorists and economic development professionals contributed their skills to plan the “first step of our efforts to develop a creative economy in Southwest Virginia.”

    “It was a grassroots movement in the beginning,” says The Crooked Road’s Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood. “But people had enough vision to come together and see that the idea for a music trail had potential.”

    Today, The Crooked Road is run as a nonprofit that helps communities celebrate their heritage, weaving together the unique roots-music stories of 19 counties, four cities and over 50 communities.

    Musical Attractions

    Bookended by the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, Va., and the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum, Va., The Crooked Road is anchored by nine major venues, including the Carter Family Fold, the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Floyd Country Store and the Country Cabin — the longest continuously run place to see live heritage music in the region.

    Activities along The Crooked Road peak in the summer with festivals and fiddlers conventions. From June 9 to 17, the Mountains of Music Homecoming highlights 23 communities that work together to put on cultural events like public concerts, quilt demonstrations, lectures, outdoor movies, canoe floats and historic church tours.

    “Mountains of Music Homecoming represents all the different things that communities are proud of, making it accessible to people in their community and people from other communities,” says Hinshelwood.

    But throughout the year, there is something different to hear and to see. A jam session or concert can be found nearly any night of the week in Southwest Virginia, says Hinshelwood, and many are listed on The Crooked Road’s website.

    “The Smyth County Jam has a wonderful jam on Monday nights. Thursday nights, we have a great jam at the Heartwood in Abingdon,” he says. “Pretty much any time someone comes, there is something to do and see. There is way more than you can see, even in a two-week trip.”

    Boosting Local Economies

    During the summer of 2015, the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development studied the economic impact of The Crooked Road on the region. This study found that, “The Crooked Road facilitates $6.4 million of tourist spending annually in Southwest Virginia, resulting in $9.2 million of total economic impact annually and an equivalent of 131 full-time jobs in the region.”

    Road sign

    This signature sign for The Crooked Road marks the route. Photo courtesy of, Virginia Tourism Corporation

    Boosting the local economy was a primary reason for the creation of The Crooked Road. According to Christensen, in June of 2003, the original organizers of The Crooked Road set out two ambitious goals. “One, to make Southwest Virginia nationally known as a tourist destination, which at that time it wasn’t,” Christensen says. “And two, to triple the cultural heritage revenues in the area.”

    The excitement about the trail quickly grew. “Within 18 months, The Crooked Road was getting international and national press,” says Hinshelwood. “We’re now in our second decade, and it continues to be written about in international publications.”

    Nearly 42 percent of the trail’s visitors come from outside the region, and almost half of these individuals “said they came primarily for The Crooked Road,” stated the Virginia Tech study. This included visitors from Canada, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.

    But The Crooked Road does much more within the region. According to the Virginia Tech study, “regional officials indicated the importance of The Crooked Road in encouraging ‘pride’ in the region’s rich cultural heritage.” This most notably occurs through The Crooked Road’s Traditional Music Education Program’s partnership with Junior Appalachian Musicians, which teaches children to play and dance to traditional old-time and bluegrass music.

    Hinshelwood echoed the power that The Crooked Road has brought to Southwest Virginia. “By working with The Crooked Road, I’m really working around people that are positive and care deeply about the future of our region,” he says.

    The founders of The Crooked Road progressed to developing artisan networks in every county, which led to the development of a recreational outdoor network called Appalachian Spring.

    “Protecting the water quality, viewsheds, forests, has become an economic development priority versus maybe six years ago those were seen as extractive assets,” says Christensen, “Now those elements are seen as assets to be preserved to enable communities to have economic development.”

    These new endeavors have a promising example to follow in The Crooked Road, which has created a new way for communities in Southwest Virginia to work together to build local economies.

    “Folks who are interested in cultural heritage or environmental stewardship can, now, band together with economic development people to realize that by working together we are all furthering each other’s objectives,” states Christensen. “The Crooked Road set that example: preserve the music and make it more accessible to people,” he continues. “You don’t compromise your assets for economic development; you build upon and promote them.”

    For more information, visit

    An Appalachian Bookshelf: Exploring Grandfather Mountain

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    “Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon” provides an in-depth history of the early exploration of this stately geologic figure of Western North Carolina and chronicles its development into a popular tourist attraction and state park.

    book cover

    In this beautifully illustrated volume, Randy Johnson shares both his knowledge of and love for this iconic mountain.

    The book is divided into two sections. The first and longer section details the history of the mountain. After summarizing its geologic formation, Johnson details accounts of early adventurers and scholars who explored the mountain from the late 1700s onward. Later, townships around Grandfather were established, the railroad arrived, and the slopes were timbered and flooded.

    Today, Grandfather Mountain is traversed by hiking trails, skirted by the Blue Ridge Parkway’s viaduct and crossed by the mile-high swinging bridge. The book chronicles these developments, along with the impact of the MacRae and Morton families, who owned this property for many generations until two-thirds of the mountain were sold to North Carolina and became a state park in 2008. The remaining third is operated as a scenic attraction by the nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.

    Grandfather Mountain

    Profile of Grandfather Mountain. Courtesy of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

    The second section provides a guide to hiking and photographing Grandfather Mountain and includes a wealth of information about the landmark’s plants and animals, together with an overview of the area’s many trails.

    The stunning images that accompany Johnson’s text include a carefully curated collection of archival pictures and photographs taken by Hugh Morton — longtime owner of Grandfather Mountain until his death in 2006 — and by the author himself.

    This book is published by The University of North Carolina Press, hardcover $35,

    — Review by Elizabeth E. Payne

    Driving Trails of Appalachia

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    There are many driving trails in Appalachia, including The Crooked Road featured in this issue. Take a day or a week to discover the region’s history, culture and environment! — Compiled by Dave Walker

    Cherohala Skyway (North Carolina/Tennessee)

    Cherohala Skyway

    Photo by Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia

    Opened in 1996 and costing $100 million to complete, the 40-mile Cherohala Skyway is a National Scenic Byway that links Tennessee with North Carolina and is described as “a museum without walls.” The roadway is a part of the Furs to Factories Heritage Trail that promotes the area’s diverse economic history. Learn more at: or by calling 1-800-245-5428

    Pie in the Sky Trail (Tennessee)

    Lookout Mountain

    Photo by Averette at English Wikipedia

    Connecting urban and rural Southeast Tennessee is The Pie in the Sky Trail, which travels past downtown Chattanooga’s Bluff View Arts District and the Tennessee Aquarium, as well as features stops in South Pittsburg, home of the National Cornbread Festival, and in Dayton at the site of the 1925 Scopes Trial. Along the way, visit Civil War battlefields and mountain biking trails. Learn more at: or by calling 1-800-462-8366

    Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina/Virginia)

    Blue Ridge Parkway

    Photo by Randolph Femmer / USGS

    Authorized by Congress in 1936, this 469-mile roadway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The National Park Service calls it a “museum of the managed American Countryside,” and it showcases natural and historical highlights of Appalachia. Learn more at: or by calling 1-828-348-3400

    Mountain Music Trail (West Virginia)

    Mountain Music Trail

    Courtesy Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co.

    Following Route 219 along West Virginia’s eastern Allegheny Mountains, the Mountain Music Trail is a portal into the area’s musicians, venues and festivals. To learn more about the area’s year-round events and the artists and musicians who call eastern West Virginia home, visit: or call 1-800-336-7009

    Skyline Drive (Virginia)

    Skyline Drive

    Courtesy Shenandoah National Park

    Established in 1931, Skyline Drive is known as the Gateway to the Shenandoah Valley. This national park requires an entrance fee, but features long vistas and “fog oceans,” as visitors take the 105-mile long trail. Various stops along the peak road offer hikes to waterfalls and rock scrambles. Learn more at: or by calling 1-800-847-4878

    Appalachian Quilt Trail (Tennessee/Virginia)

    Appalachian Quilt Trail

    Photo by Stephani McCarty / AQT

    Promoting Tennessee and Southwest Virginia’s cultural, historical and recreational sites, the Appalachian Quilt Trail’s slogan is “It’s Whatever You Want It to Be.” The map, created in 2012, lists over 700 unique barn quilt squares by their address and coordinates. Learn more at: or call 1-888-775-4AQT

    Buckingham’s Battle: Residents oppose proposed gas compressor station

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Molly Moore

    Buckingham resident

    Cora Perkins worries about the health impacts and accompanying medical bills if a compressor station is sited nearby. Photo by Molly Moore

    UPDATE: On Dec. 12, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors held its monthly meeting. WMRA reported that more than 150 citizens attended, with more than a dozen people speaking out against the compressor station during the general comment period. During that meeting, the board also set the date for a public hearing regarding the special use permit for the natural gas compressor station for Jan. 5, 2017. Click here for information about the public hearing.

    Ella Rose grew up in Nelson County, Va., across the James River from her current home in Buckingham County. From her dining room table, she enjoys the simple pleasure of looking out across the grassy yard, flanked by tall evergreens and watching the wildlife pass by.

    But lately Rose has been concerned about the potential for a natural gas compressor station to be built on the other side of those evergreens.

    Buckingham County, just east of the mountains and south of the James River, is the geographic center of Virginia. It’s also become a focus in the regional push against new natural gas infrastructure.

    To keep gas moving through the pipelines at sufficient pressure, the networks that transport fracked gas from the drill sites to the final destination require compressor stations. In this case, the 53,784-horsepower facility would also connect the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would extend from West Virginia to North Carolina, to the existing Transco Pipeline.

    Scores of local residents like Rose have publicly voiced their opposition to Dominion Resources’ plan to install a compressor station on a 68-acre parcel of land bordered by the largely African American Union Hill community.
    Compressor stations emit air pollutants such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, recent research notes consistent respiratory, neurological and cardiovascular symptoms in residents living near compressor stations. Residents have also complained of high levels of noise and offensive odors.

    Cora Perkins’ property also flanks the proposed site, and she says thoughts of the compressor station sometimes keep her up at night. A survivor of three open-heart surgeries, the dust kicked up by vacuuming is enough to bother her breathing.

    Her five-year-old great-grandson also has breathing difficulties, and Perkins says she’s concerned about whether he will be safe at her home on the family land if the compressor station is installed nearby.

    Chad Oba and her husband have lived near Perkins for 30 years. Oba is also a member of Friends of Buckingham, a grassroots group opposed to the pipeline and compressor station. “I really feel as though we’re getting the most polluting aspect of this pipeline,” she says.

    Planning Process

    In October, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held its first hearing regarding a special use permit to build the facility in an area zoned for agricultural use. So many citizens arrived to speak against the compressor station that the commission devoted another meeting to the topic — and still, enough concerned residents arrived that the commission scheduled yet another meeting to allow Dominion a chance to respond.

    Buckingham sign

    A sign near Dominion’s proposed facility. Photo by Molly Moore

    Days before the fourth planning commission meeting, news broke that Buckingham County had entered into an “agreement in principle” with one of the county’s largest employers, Kyanite Mining Co., along with Columbia Gas Virginia, that would allow Kyanite to tap into gas from the new pipeline to fuel industrial burners at the company’s plant. Until that point, none of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas was expected to go to local customers, a point of contention for many of the compressor station’s potential neighbors.

    At the next planning commission meeting on Nov. 21, the commissioners announced their decision to recommend the project along with a set of 40 conditions, eight more than in the original permit. These conditions include limits on overnight noise, additional safety measures and added consequences for any permit violations. The commission also recommended limiting the size of the compressor station to 55,000 horsepower and requiring that any increase in size undergo new permitting.

    In the public comment period following the commission’s announcement, more than a dozen community members shared their concerns.

    In the next step in the process, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision regarding the compressor station application in December or January. Although the board has supported the new gas infrastructure in the past, Friends of Buckingham and other concerned citizens intend to continue advocating against the facility.

    According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, as the commissioners and others left the Nov. 21 meeting, opponents of the compressor station began a chant: “People gonna rise like the water, gonna shut this pipeline down!”

    John Laury grew up in Buckingham County’s Union Hill neighborhood. After decades away, he returned in 2003 with his wife Ruby and step-grandson. They now raise cattle on a peaceful, quiet property near several of John’s siblings. But Ruby and John are concerned that the proposed nearby compressor station and new natural gas pipeline could threaten their well water and clean air.

    “We have a family homesite and all of my siblings own property just about a mile away from the compressor station … So our concerns are what it’s doing to the property values — it’s devaluing it. There are people trying to sell their property in the area now and they’re not able to sell them.

    We’re being asked to trust Dominion, to put our lives on the line in so many cases. It may work fine for 20 years, but it only takes one eruption and then we got a major problem.

    With all the money that Dominion has to invest, they could very well have approached a farmer who had thousands of acres and bought him out and put that in the center so it wouldn’t be really close to residents. And here it is, it’s right in the backyard of quite a few residents. And that’s to me unimaginable. Even though we’re in rural Buckingham, it’s not that rural when you start looking at potential impacts.” — Adrian Jones

    Carlos Arostegui is a firm opponent of both the compressor station and the associated natural gas pipeline. At Whispering Creek Farm, Arostegui grazes 36 Jersey dairy cows on 134 acres. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cut through his back pasture on its way to the proposed compressor station roughly a mile from his home. He and his wife just finished paying for perimeter fencing, but the pipeline right-of-way would cut through the pasture. “They’re taking half that field away from me because I’m not going to have my cows going across that pipeline right-of-way,” he says.
    “I was born in Cuba, I came when I was 12 years old. I’ve lived in Florida, Georgia, went to college in Tennessee, graduate school in Connecticut and then in Maryland, and all of that time I had never felt at home. It wasn’t until I came here that I felt like I’m not passing through any more. I’m home. So I’m going to fight to keep it.”

    “It’s highly likely the property would devalue, and it’s our sole life investment — it’s the only thing we really have that we can turn around if we needed to and move elsewhere. So to have it so severely devalued as we expect it to, that’s a real concern.

    We’ve given some really, really good economic projections and very well-substantiated health impact studies from Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists. These are real impacts, they’re not based on fear, they’re real. And I think that the way of the future is away from fossil fuels, it’s not building more gas infrastructure.”
    — Chad Oba

    “You don’t know how that [compressor station is] going to do. Your breathing could be bad from it … if people get sick or something at night and nobody around, and then it could be a big bill or something. I wonder why they decided to put it right here, in this community, of all the other places.”

    Fostering Climate Resilience

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    Adaptations in Changing Times

    By Eliza Laubach

    Chris Oishi discusses his research in “The Electric Forest" at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. Photo by Karl Bates

    Chris Oishi discusses his research in “The Electric Forest” at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. Photo by Karl Bates

    Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice provide a history of the atmosphere from as far back as 400,000 years ago, and tell the story of a new geologic time emerging. The earth’s atmosphere now contains more carbon dioxide than it ever did in these ancient samples, according to NASA, namely because of the potent greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels.

    This past April, 180 countries signed the Paris climate agreement, which lays out a strategy to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. In 2015, the Obama Administration released the Clean Power Plan, an unprecedented effort to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the United States. As of July, global temperatures are 1.03 degrees Celsius above the historic baseline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information.

    Warming temperatures, driven by changes in global atmospheric circulation, are breaking records in the Southeastern U.S. The most recent decade — 2001 to 2010 — was the warmest on record, and in the past three decades the Southeast has experienced more extreme climate and weather disasters than any other region of the United States, according to a Southeast Regional Climate Assessment report. But when it comes to predicting the impacts of global climate change in Appalachia, Virginia State Climatologist Jerry Stenger laughs at the mystery presented by the complex terrain.

    Appalachia’s mountain ranges run erratically and often surround valleys, which creates uniquely dry microclimates. Stenger explains that high mountain peaks can also lock thunderstorms in an area, releasing large amounts of rainfall and causing flash flooding. Individual storms cannot be directly linked to climate change. But strong rain events, like the one that led to devastating flooding in West Virginia earlier this year, may well become more frequent, says Stenger, and their effects are intensified by mountainous topography.

    The mountains’ unique weather patterns make it challenging to predict how global scale warming will affect the region. According to Stenger, while much of Appalachia will see warming, some areas will see cooling or no change at all. “There’s so many uncertainties, but that’s the nature of it,” he says.

    Gauging Impacts on Ecosystems

    A little shack at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory houses an automated device that measures stream flow every five minutes to assess water levels. Photo by Judy Schoonmaker.

    A little shack at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory houses an automated device that measures stream flow every five minutes to assess water levels. Photo by Judy Schoonmaker.

    Appalachia’s biodiverse ecosystems harbor species that thrive in its lush, wet forests and provide the region with ecological resilience, a term that refers to a system’s ability to absorb impacts before changing state altogether. But warming is resulting in longer growing seasons and is leading some plants to climb in elevation or move northward. Some rare and important species are at risk from a more unpredictable climate, such as the spruce-fir forests on the tallest mountain peaks, the region’s uncommonly abundant species of salamanders or the prized brook trout.

    Even in southern Appalachia, which boasts a rainforest reputation, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows precipitation was below average across most of the region this year. All over the Southeast, droughts are becoming more common and severe, impacting municipal drinking water supplies, many of which are reservoirs fed by watersheds flowing from private or federally owned forest.

    At the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in southwestern North Carolina — a nearly 5,000-acre forest designated for experimental research in 1934 — U.S. Forest Service scientists track stream flow within a watershed to better understand how forest changes affect reservoirs. They also monitor climate and forest changes at places like the so-called “Electric Forest,” a section where trees are rigged with monitoring devices to assess their water uptake. Advanced meteorological tools measure the amount of carbon dioxide cycling through the trees and the atmosphere.

    In his research at Coweeta, Chris Oishi has found that southern Appalachian forests absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than originally thought. He discovered that the Electric Forest takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil and plant material, ultimately absorbing more carbon than it generates through decomposing trees or disturbed soil — resulting in what is known as a carbon sink. At Coweeta, about 1.1 tons of carbon are sequestered per acre of forest per year, roughly as much carbon dioxide as the emissions of one average car.

    Oishi and his colleagues have also found that climate change is lessening the carbon sink potential of forests as warmer, drier years lessen the trees’ ability to absorb carbon. Species transition within an ecosystem also plays a factor. In one example Oishi noted, as the carbon-absorbing hemlock dies out across Appalachia and is replaced by rhododendron, carbon sinks are diminished.

    Forested land would need to increase in size in the Southeast in order to keep up with rising carbon dioxide emissions, says Oishi.

    One group working to maintain the Southeast’s forest carbon sinks is the Dogwood Alliance, a conservation advocacy group based in Asheville, N.C. The organization’s Carbon Canopy program is working to create a market for the region’s carbon sinks, providing private landowners and corporate partners with financial incentives to help preserve large tracts of forested land.

    seed researcher

    Joe-Ann McCoy saves seeds and collects data on sochan, an edible coneflower native to Southern Appalachia and part of Cherokee cuisine. Photo courtesy of Joe-Ann McCoy.

    Climate change has the potential to increase a forest’s vulnerability to drought. According to Oishi, the dominant species in southern Appalachian forests is shifting from oak and hickory to tulip poplar and maple, most likely due to fire suppression and climate change. These types of trees use more water, lessening streamflow and water supply. Since record keeping began in 1936 at Coweeta, 80 percent of the severe drought cycles have occurred between 1980 and the present.

    During a drought, the forest system becomes stressed when trees and plants compete for water. Higher-elevation hardwood coves host valuable medicinal plants that are especially vulnerable to water scarcity. Some species can be killed off in as little as one season, as opposed to trees, which take several years to die from drought.

    Joe-Ann McCoy, director of the North Carolina Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository in Asheville, N.C., works to save the seeds of these important plants, such as black cohosh and ginseng. The seed bank at the arboretum is one of the only ones in the country focusing on native medicinal plants. McCoy is looking for varieties resistent to climate change and focusing on projects with people who have long-standing relationships with these plants.

    According to McCoy, seed banks are vitally important for helping people adapt to climate change. For the past seven years, McCoy has been partnering with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on seed saving. Like all tribes in the Southeast, the Cherokee do not have any seed banks. But McCoy is hoping to change this. In collaboration with the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, she is helping to establish a program to create seed banks of traditional native and heirloom plants for 26 indigenous tribes.

    “We should have already done this 10 years ago,” McCoy says. “Europe is way ahead of us on this.”

    Seeding Climate Justice

    As social justice and environmental issues more visibly intersect, a solutions-based effort is emerging — climate justice. People who are vulnerable to social and economic challenges are also susceptible to being directly impacted by climate change, such as having fewer resources to rebuild after severe weather events. People in low-income communities are more likely to be impacted by the fossil fuels that cause climate change — such as people who live near power plants. Climate justice aims to address all of these issues at once.

    Stan Johnson, co-founder of Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development in Knoxville, Tenn., teaches city residents about shifts they can make to lessen their impact on the climate while also empowering youth from the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

    SEEED designed its program to reflect two community concerns: high energy bills and the lack of local, high-paying jobs. Participants in this program are trained in career readiness and complete door-to-door neighborhood education about energy efficiency. SEEED also received a grant for recycling education.

    SEEED accomplishment

    A SEEED participant is congratulated on completion of a program. Photo courtesy of SEEED.

    According to Johnson, the organization’s expertise is reaching people in the community who are not reached by traditional media pathways. “We don’t want it to be just the eco-elite with the solar panels and hybrid cars,” he says. “Bring it down to the everyday person — what they can do.”

    Tom Rodd, initiative director of Allegheny Highlands Climate Change Impacts Initiative sees climate change and social justice issues intersecting in low-income communities that are polluted by coal mines. Rodd has educated residents, held conferences, and published reports about climate impacts in Central Appalachia.

    West Virginia’s economy is built on fossil fuels including coal, says Rodd, and talking about climate change can be very difficult for people who have mined and extracted these resources for generations. “Nobody told them they were at risk of losing their jobs because of the tiny molecule CO2 that has the potential of destroying the planet,” he says.

    Part of the solution, he says, is to financially support these communities and fight for a more just transition away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy. He speaks in broad terms about what is at stake: the loss of fish habitats and forests, and increased flooding and more frequent heat waves. He has had the most success with teachers and students, the least success with politicians. In West Virginia, he says, “it’s an adjustment process for everybody.”

    During canvassing, SEEED invites the community to an energy efficiency workshop. Photo courtesy of SEEED

    During canvassing, SEEED invites the community to an energy efficiency workshop. Photo courtesy of SEEED

    Allegheny Highlands is now focusing primarily on climate change education for teachers. Rodd’s generation helped create the problem, he says, but it will be up to the next generation to fix it.

    To avert climate chaos, Jodi Lasseter, founder and co-convener of the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit, encourages a culture shift achieved by developing authentic relationships across differences, such as race, age and gender. The summit, in its third year, unites high school students, community organizers and nonprofit changemakers from across the state. The groups learn from and inspire each other to “reform, resist, reimagine and re-create the societal systems that constructed fossil fuel-induced climate change,” says Lasseter.

    The event, held in Browns Summit, N.C., gives attention to those who are directly impacted by fossil fuels. Last year, a member of Walnut Cove, N.C., which is polluted by coal ash, participated in a frontline community panel.

    With the increasing threat of climate change, ecological resilience is important for Appalachia’s biologically sensitive areas. The ability of the region to develop solutions relies on the strength of its scientific and grassroots communities. According to Lasseter, it’s critical that those who are not on the front lines of climate impact stand in solidarity.

    “We want to reclaim our people power to take collective action,” she says.

    2016 State Legislatures on Climate Change

    North Carolina: This year saw the sunset of a state tax credit for renewable energy, and state regulators rejected a petition that would have increased access to solar power by allowing companies other than Duke Energy to finance solar panel installations.

    Virginia: Although the legislature blocked the Clean Power Plan’s implementation in the state, the governor issued an executive order for state agencies to develop carbon reduction strategies by spring 2017.

    West Virginia: The legislature defeated an effort to repeal the state’s adoption of national science education standards that include climate change, but adopted curriculum changes that downplay the link between climate change and human causes.

    Kentucky: A new law establishes a prescribed fire burn program set to begin by summer 2017. Prescribed burns imitate historical forest management and diminish wildfire risk, which is increasing with climate change, according to USFS scientists.

    Tennessee: Under a new law, farmers now have greater protection to open Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, even if they are deemed a public or private nuisance. These massive livestock operations are significant sources of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

    Across the Years: Updates from the Archives

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    For two decades, The Appalachian Voice has reported on environmental issues from across central and southern Appalachia. In honor of our 20th anniversary, we looked back through our archives to identify important topics that we’ve covered over the years and provide updates on where these issues stand today.

    Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining’s Ongoing Impact in Appalachia

    Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to threaten the mountains and rivers of Central Appalachia. This image of Kayford Mountain was taken in July 2014. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of Appalachian Voices/Southwings

    Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to threaten the mountains and rivers of Central Appalachia. This image of Kayford Mountain was taken in July 2014. Photo by Lynn Willis, courtesy of Appalachian Voices/Southwings

    In our inaugural issue in Winter 1996, The Appalachian Voice ran its first story about mountaintop coal removal mining. In “A View From Kayford Mountain: ‘Seng, Ramps, And The Human Casualties of Burning Coal,” Mary Hufford wrote about a particularly destructive form of surface mining that would grow in scope over the coming years.

    In Winter 2003, we once again covered the issue when Tiffany Hartung discussed the damage already being caused by a recently permitted mine on Zeb Mountain in an article called “Mountaintop Removal by any Other Name… Elk Valley residents voice concern as cross ridge mining comes to Tennessee.” For 10 years, community members and advocacy groups fought to stop this destruction, and in June 2013, we reported on their victory. After repeated violations to the Clean Water Act, a legal settlement ended mining on Zeb Mountain.

    Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 500 mountains and over one million acres in Central and Southern Appalachia to date. In recent years the pace of the mining has slowed, but the health risks to nearby communities remain significant. With many regional coal companies now going through bankruptcy, citizens and advocacy organizations are increasingly focused on ensuring that these sites are properly cleaned up and reclaimed.

    Read more about the continued threat of mountaintop removal coal mining here.

    Hemlocks Under Threat

    The aphid-like woolly adelgid is devastating hemlock populations in the southern Appalachians, leaving behind gray ghosts like these in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Norman, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

    The aphid-like woolly adelgid is devastating hemlock populations in the southern Appalachians, leaving behind gray ghosts like these in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Norman, courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

    Hugh Irwin’s article, “Exotic Pest Invasion Threatens Many Tree Species,” in the Spring 1996 issue contained our first mention of the threat posed by the hemlock woolly adelgid. This non-native, aphid-like insect sucks the sap out of both the eastern and Carolina hemlocks and can damage or kill the trees within a few years.

    Deborah Huso’s article, “Praying for a Good Predator: Biologists introduce beetles, try to save Eastern Hemlock,” in the Summer 2005 issue was one of several we’ve run over the years about the ongoing efforts to save the hemlock trees.

    While the hemlock woolly adelgid is found across much of the eastern United States, its impact in the southern Appalachians has been profound. The U.S. Forest Service is combating this pest by introducing natural predators and insecticides that kill the woolly adelgid and looking for hybrid varieties of hemlocks that are more resistant to attack.

    A recent study of hemlocks in North Carolina by U.S. Forest Service scientists found that once the trees are infested, more than 85 percent are dead within seven years.

    A Haze Over the Great Smoky Mountains

    Air pollution affects the visibility at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as evidenced by these images of clear versus hazy days. Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

    Air pollution affects the visibility at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as evidenced by these images of clear versus hazy days. Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service

    The first issue of the publication in Winter 1996 was “partly devoted to the insidious, sometimes invisible problem of air pollution” — a topic that has been a regular theme since.

    The Summer 2004 issue included a story by Matt Wasson and Harvard Ayers called “And the Winner Is… America’s Most Visited Park Is Also Its Most Polluted,” which covered air pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the time it was reported that, “Over the last five years, the Smokies have had more than 100 days when breathing is potentially dangerous due to excess ozone. Even healthy visitors and staff are warned to limit exertion of any kind on such days, including hiking and biking.”

    While ozone levels remain elevated, according to the U.S. National Park Service no ozone health advisories were issued in 2013, the latest year for which records are available.

    Still Cleaning Up Coal Ash

    Our February/March 2009 issue focused on the disastrous coal ash spill that took place in Kingston, Tenn., on Dec. 22, 2008.

    Our February/March 2009 issue focused on the disastrous coal ash spill that took place in Kingston, Tenn., on Dec. 22, 2008.

    Following the catastrophic coal ash spill in late 2008 at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant, the February/March 2009 issue of The Appalachian Voice was devoted to this disaster that brought the problem of coal ash to national attention. We have followed the topic closely ever since.

    Nearly eight years later, toxic coal ash — waste leftover from burning coal — continues to poison the region. In Alabama, communities are struggling to deal with coal ash that was transported to the area after the 2008 Kingston spill. Subsequent disasters, such as the North Carolina’s Dan River spill in 2014, keep the issue in the spotlight.

    In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released federal rules for disposing of coal ash, which environmental groups criticized as insufficient. Earlier that year, the N.C. General Assembly passed even stricter regulations, but many of the state’s guidelines have since been overturned. And in towns like Walnut Cove, N.C., toxic compounds are still leaching from neighboring coal ash impoundments into residents’ drinking water.

    Protecting Migrating Birds


    The cerulean warbler’s population is in steep decline. Conservationists are working to preserve its summer habitat throughout Appalachia. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Migratory birds took center stage in “Less Twittering in the Trees: Migratory Birds Show Alarming Population Declines,” an article from April/May 2009 by Kathleen McFadden that described how the loss of habitat, especially through forest fragmentation, was threatening populations of many migratory birds.

    While many populations are still in decline, conservationists are hoping to reverse this trend. Appalachian Mountain Joint Ventures — a regional coalition of organizations and agencies working to conserve the habitat of migratory birds that was cited in the 2009 article — continues to partner with private landowners to protect the natural homes of at-risk birds.

    In January 2015, the coalition was awarded federal funding for a five-year program to enhance the habitat of the cerulean warbler. This program includes funding to manage and improve 12,500 acres of forest land and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland.

    Battle to Save Blair Mountain

    Blair protest

    In June 2011, environmental activists gathered for the March on Blair Mountain in an effort to save the historic site from destruction from mountaintop removal coal mining.

    The largest labor uprising in American history took place in late August and early September, 1921, on Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia. At that time, thousands of miners joined forces to fight for better treatment and the right to unionize.

    In the Summer 2005 issue, Denise Giardina wrote an article called “The Battle of Blair Mountain… Revisited” about the ongoing struggle to save the archaeological remains of the battle from destruction by mountaintop removal coal mining.

    After years of victories and defeats for conservationists, for now it seems the site will be preserved. On July 26, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior dropped its appeal of an earlier case, paving the way for the site to be returned the National Register of Historic Places, which will add some protection to the battlefield.

    Passing on the Pipelines

    pipeline map

    The East Coast is crossed by natural gas pipelines. Blue indicates existing pipelines, other colors are proposed pipelines. Map by Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition.

    The expansion of natural gas pipelines into the Appalachian region was first mentioned in the Late Summer 2003 issue. In “Passing on the Patriot Pipeline: Duke Power Criss-Crossing New River Watershed,” Lynn Caldwell and Jeffrey Scott wrote of their fight to block a pipeline already under construction.

    By the next year, the Patriot Extension was fully operational. The 95-mile pipeline is now operated by Spectra Energy, a spin-off company of Duke Energy, and extends from one natural gas pipeline in Wythe County, Va., to another pipeline in Rockingham County, N.C.

    On July 23, more than 600 people gathered in Richmond, Va., for the “March on the Mansion” to ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stand against proposed pipelines in the state.

    On July 23, more than 600 people gathered in Richmond, Va., for the “March on the Mansion” to ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stand against proposed pipelines in the state.

    Since then, natural gas infrastructure has expanded across Appalachia, and so has our coverage. Today, community members and environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices, are fighting to block the construction of two more proposed lines — the Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast Pipelines, in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. For the latest, read more here.