Member Spotlight: Bruce Compton

The ridge lines of Bruce's current home, Bristol, Tenn. Photo by Bantosh.

A Champion for Conservation

Bruce Compton lives about 10 miles outside of Bristol, Tenn., and can regularly be seen helping out at the Appalachian Voices office in Boone on volunteer nights for The Appalachian Voice. He first discovered Appalachian Voices online and soon found himself talking with our own Shay Boyd about volunteering.

Bruce grew up in the coalfields of McDowell County, W.Va., and his father and grandfather were miners, as were many of his high school friends. Though he has had a complicated relationship with coal throughout his life, Bruce has come to see a transition away from the industry as the best thing for the environment and for the health and well-being of the people in the coalfields.

Today, Bruce champions the efforts of anyone who hopes to protect their natural surroundings. He is a member of a number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Park Service, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy — all of which he donates toward and volunteers with when he can. “I like being around people who think the same why I do and those who are interested in the same things I am,” he says.

Bruce loves to hike, help with trail maintenance and travel to beautiful locations when he is able. He uses Amtrak to coordinate trips, preferring to travel by train. This way, he says, he can focus on his surroundings as he makes his way through them, which is hard to do when one is driving or flying. It’s no wonder Bruce is interested in protecting and conserving the environment around him.

“Sometimes I just feel like a kid in a candy store,” he says, describing how he feels navigating the catalog of America’s natural wonders or even researching locations he’d like to visit next.

Some of Bruce’s favorite locales include Moab, Utah, Glacier National Park and the Grand Canyon, all which have views “you just can’t describe with words, but you just have to experience,” he says.

Industries — whether timber, coal or gas — have a huge impact on communities like those in Bruce’s home county of McDowell. The trees, coal and methane were extracted by companies, says Bruce, and then very little is given back to places like McDowell, which today struggles to maintain basic services such as its public water and education systems.

Bruce remembers how the creek behind his house when he was growing up was black. “At the time I didn’t really think about it,” he says. But now he wonders why that was allowed to happen and what its ultimate effects have been up until today.

Bruce finds it comforting that certain electricity providers have begun to notice a need to transition to other energy practices. “It didn’t use to be this way,” he says, “but I’ve come to realize how we need to move away from coal.”

He plans to be at Appalachian Voices’ next volunteer night, where he will put his principles into action to help package The Voice and share with everyone what has become a staple treat in the Boone office when Bruce volunteers: a smorgasbord of cookies.

— By Davis Wax