Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Culture’

From farm to fork to mountain trails: summer edition of The Appalachian Voice

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by Kimber

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You don’t need to travel far to experience a summer rich in laughter and discovery. In this issue of The Appalachian Voice, we scope out some of the region’s most lively farmers markets and showcase the natural beauty of the “Heart of Appalachia,” a region in southwest Virginia hailed as among the most biodiverse in the country.

Writer Megan Northcote explores the growing phenomenon of “destination farmers markets,” which host events and activities that lead Northcote to dub them “more than a market.” Visitors can enjoy cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on kids activities, live music and dancing -‒ all while enjoying fresh and delicious food from the surrounding community. And access to this healthy, locally-sourced produce is expanding. From a mobile farmers market in eastern Tennessee to a program in West Virginia where children grow and sell food from their school garden, the way that communities think about food is being transformed all across Appalachia.

At the same time, ecotourism is continuing to gain momentum as a way to promote and protect the natural features that shape a community’s unique identity. In the Clinch River Valley of southwest Virginia, the recent opening of a river tubing outfitter, as well as the development of driving, biking and hiking trails, have been attracting tourists from across the nation. Visitors are enticed by the region’s astounding biodiversity ‒ the crystal-clear waters of the Clinch River are home to more endangered and rare aquatic species than anywhere else in the country ‒ and the famous voices of the region’s musical history steeped in the origins of bluegrass.

Residents, organizations and businesses of the Clinch River Valley are banding together to preserve these assets by working towards the creation of a new state park. The state legislature is still working through the process of funding the park, but in the meantime the issue’s regular Hiking the Highlands column explores some of the trails that already traverse the area. The ability to discover and interact with the outdoors in the Clinch River Valley is further aided by several phone applications ‒ introduced throughout the articles ‒ that provide visitors with guided tours and wildlife interpretation.

Potential threats to our food and environment are also investigated in this issue. Valerie Bruchon analyzes some of the issues surrounding genetically modified food and what it could mean for Appalachia. You can learn more about which food labels exclude genetically modified foods and other controversial components from our “What’s in Your Food” chart.

You can also read about some of the continued difficulties associated with fossil fuel consumption. In “At What Cost?” residents of Belews Creek tell their stories about how coal ash ‒ the toxic byproduct from burning coal ‒ has endangered the health of their community. Brian Sewell examines the need for federal rules to regulate the practice of using coal ash as fill material for abandoned surface and underground mines. And in “Confronting Carbon Pollution,” Molly Moore investigates the Obama administration’s plans to implement carbon pollution regulations for new and existing coal-fired power plants.

Be sure to check out our regular features too. This issue’s Naturalist Notebook takes a look at the Eastern grey treefrog, whose mating song can be heard in Appalachia from April to August. Our This Green House column checks out the European Solar Decathlon, an energy-efficient home design competition. Appalachian State University has teamed up with a French university to compete in the decathlon this June.

Wherever your plans take you this summer, make some time to get outdoors! And while you’re out there, be sure to read this issue of The Appalachian Voice. You can pick up a copy from a newsstand near you, read the online version here or join Appalachian Voices to receive a one-year subscription in your mailbox. Questions or comments? Email voice@appvoices.org, or submit a letter to the editor!

Handing Off and Holding On: Melungeon Identity and Appalachia

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Kimber Ray

Attempting to trace the origin of the Melungeon people is akin to pursuing the source of the Cumberland River coursing through their historical territory. Like the waters of the Cumberland Gap, where neighboring streams weave through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia to meet among the rolling crests of the Appalachian Mountains, the Melungeons — a mixed-race population of Appalachia — are the product of a great fusion. Yet where had these waters passed before they arrived in Appalachia?

With a map of the Cumberland Gap spread on the table, Sylvia Ray, mother of Tammy Stachowicz, researches the residences of her Melungeon ancestors.

With a map of the Cumberland Gap spread on the table, Sylvia Ray, mother of Tammy Stachowicz, researches the residences of her Melungeon ancestors.

If the water had traveled along the same path as the Melungeons, some might speculate that it had pooled into swimming holes for the lost colonists of Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. Others may suggest these were the same waters that had carried the notorious ships of 17th century Portuguese slave traders across the Atlantic Ocean. While any of these stories may be true, each one blunders over an essential truth: the Melungeons— like the river — are an indisputable presence that is greater than any far-flung origin.

“You can’t pin down a definite definition for Melungeons,” says Tucker Davis, a freelance journalist and self-identified Melungeon from Buchanan County, Va. He recalls a youth spent exploring his rural mountain community of Grundy, where everyone had a different story about what it was to be Melungeon. From neighbors recounting tales of African or Native American lineage, to a Sunday school teacher who said they could be identified by a small knot of bone on the back of their heads, no one could say who the Melungeons were with certainty.

A popular misconception is that Melungeons can be identified by their dark skin and piercing blue or green eyes. This may have been true historically but, by its very nature, a racially mixed group will manifest in countless expressions over time.

The quest to conclusively characterize Melungeons may be spurred by the abiding mystery of whether they were in Appalachia even before the English. William Isom, a coordinator for the grassroots Community Media Organizing Project, explains that his family had long passed down an oral history of their Melungeon heritage; yet he was the first to conduct more extensive academic and genealogical research on his family’s deep-rooted history in the Cumberland Gap region of Tennessee.

“I’ve always been really intrigued with genealogy and keeping records even as a kid,” Isom states. “So I’ve always been interested in copies of the family tree and family photos. It’s a personality thing; I’m that guy who likes to archive things and keep these scraps together.”

From sifting through these pieces of the past, Isom says he’s settled on the idea that Melungeons are ambiguous because the population is historically mixed. In vivid detail, he speaks of how the English first scaled the Appalachian mountains in the 17th century and encountered people of color — neither Native American nor black — who dressed like Europeans, lived in houses, and spoke some kind of English, which they used to announce that they were Portuguese.

But this history still would not provide a decisive answer of origin: the Portuguese were the first slave traders, and their population included Jews, Muslims and North Africans. What is known with more certainty is that the term Melungeon did not appear in print until 1813, where it was used to ascribe mixed-race identity to others.

Tucker Davis has documents from this early time period of his own ancestors appearing in court, fighting the theft of their land after having been labeled Melungeon. According to Isom, discrimination and the resentful sentiment of being labeled a Melungeon can still be very tangible in northeast Tennessee.

Recalling folklore that would brand Melungeons as bogeymen, Isom says that children would be warned, “Don’t go out in the woods at night, the Melungeons will get you.” In his community, it was not uncommon for fights to ensue if the word was thrown around.

“If you called someone Melungeon, it meant you hated that person to the core of their being,” Isom says. “But now it’s fine,” he adds, because “most of the Melungeon population has assimilated into broader society, so the threat — the dread — of getting your property taken, or being murdered is no longer a reality.”

Growing acceptance of Melungeon identity is the most recent emergence in this complex narrative. “I knew no one that referred to themselves as Melungeon prior to 1990 because until recently in some areas it’s still a term you don’t say out loud — it’s a racial epithet,” states Isom, who himself became engaged with the grassroots Melungeon movement in the mid-’90s.

Ray is preparing a meal in this 1968 photograph. Many recipes were passed down by her Cherokee grandmother in southeastern Kentucky. Photos courtesy of Tammy Stachowicz

Ray is preparing a meal in this 1968 photograph. Many recipes were passed down by her Cherokee grandmother in southeastern Kentucky. Photos courtesy of Tammy Stachowicz

Isom asserts that there are actually two kinds of Melungeons: racial Melungeons and cultural Melungeons. While a racial Melungeon is someone from a historically mixed community, Isom explains, a cultural Melungeon is “poor folks — who make up the bulk of people in Appalachia — who might not have racial disparities to deal with, but share a cultural and economic identity. They understand that even though they might be white and from the mountains, they’re still not quite white enough, they’re not quite assimilated into the mainstream, they’re not marketable.”

The idea of racial status forming the basis of identity is a persistent — and harmful — belief. “Race itself is so socially constructed,” remarks Tammy Stachowicz, a diversity instructor at Davenport University in Michigan. For Stachowicz, her experience as a Melungeon had nothing to do with her skin tone.

Stachowicz discovered her Melungeon origins while searching for the source of her family’s puzzling heritage. She grew up on a farm in Michigan, where her family carefully tended their garden and orchard and raised animals including horses, goats, pigs and chickens. Although she recalls these memories fondly, Stachowicz felt throughout her childhood that there was something about her family that was different.

“Nobody else was so self-reliant — canning, freezing and growing their own food,” she says. Other children in the neighborhood made sure that she knew just how unusual this seemed. “We got teased mercilessly. Kids behind us on the school bus would throw spit wads and make animal noises,” Stachowicz adds. In her journey to understand her identity, she conducted her thesis work on Melungeons and came to a versatile conclusion: “Nature doesn’t make you Melungeon. Nurture does.”

Yet despite this conviction — one which she found validated by various Melungeons she spoke with — many people have never stopped trying to pinpoint a firmer genetic source of Melungeons. With the advances of modern technology, this fascination has taken on a new form.

Most recently, researchers published a Melungeon DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy. The final results examined only a “core group” of Melungeons — one that excluded many self-identified families — and concluded that Melungeons are primarily sub-Saharan African and European. Tucker Davis is unconvinced. “Even if a group of researchers vote on some technical definition of Melungeons, it won’t matter,” he says. “It won’t change what it means to be Melungeon.”

William Isom found this undated photograph of his great-great-aunt and uncle, Lillian Isom and Henry Cloud, while searching for information about his family’s heritage in northeastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy of William Isom

William Isom found this undated photograph of his great-great-aunt and uncle, Lillian Isom and Henry Cloud, while searching for information about his family’s heritage in northeastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy of William Isom

In a nod to the damaging effects of assigning an identity to others based on race, the American Anthropological Association wrote in 1999 that “humans are not unambiguous or clearly demarcated … race is an arbitrary and subjective means of classifying groups of people, used to justify inequalities … and the myths impede understanding of cultural behavior.”

This plight is poignantly revealed in Appalachia, which has long struggled to shed stereotypes imposed by others. For Melungeons, this struggle is magnified. Despite sharing the Appalachian cultural heritage — a story of independence and a fighting spirit shadowed by mistrust from generations of exploitation — Melungeons have suffered harsh discrimination from their “whiter” neighbors.

Prejudice against Melungeons has waxed and waned over time, in step with shifting racial perceptions in the United States. Through the emergence of racial slavery in the late 17th century, wealthy landowners sought to keep the poor under control by pitting racial groups against one another. Despite the shared heritage of many Appalachians, the stigma that came to be associated with race led much of the public to speak of “purity.” Those who could not conceal a multi-racial background encountered countless civil, educational and economic limitations.

Yet prior to — and even following — the rise of racial slavery and legal segregation, people of all different backgrounds were sharing cultures and marriages, adding to the identity of Melungeons today. As Davis explains, the story of Melungeons is not just one of discrimination, but also of diversity and community. “When I think of Melungeons, I think of unity,” he states.

In revealing the legacy of Melungeons, Isom says that he wants to “dispel the myth of Appalachian whiteness and dispel the cut-and-dry story of American settlement in Appalachia: that there was Cherokee, then the Scotch-Irish came, then the TVA, and mountaintop removal — that’s Appalachia.” He adds, “I want to mess that up as much as I can.”

Exactly where Melungeon identity ends and Appalachian identity begins is uncertain. Davis suggests that maybe being Melungeon is just a state of mind. Stachowicz likens it to a venn diagram, pointing out that with generations of Appalachians and Melungeons all living together, “you can’t know one without the other.” Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising that there is no single element that can define the shared experience of identity.

Whitewashing Reality: Diversity in Appalachia

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Rachel Ellen Simon

The coal boom drew a mix of European immigrants and African Americans to work in Appalachia. Photo courtesy ofUniversity of Kentucky Libraries, Harlan County Mine Strike Photographic Collection, 1939

The coal boom drew a mix of European immigrants and African Americans to work in Appalachia. Photo courtesy of University of Kentucky Libraries, Harlan County Mine Strike Photographic Collection, 1939

The United States may be thought of as the good ol’ “Red, White, and Blue,” but in the minds of many, Appalachian America is simply “white, white, white” — racially, that is. The stereotype of Appalachia as a strictly white Anglo-Saxon region has been perpetuated by journalists, novelists, social scientists, and even many regional historians. Yet this generalization over-simplifies a more complicated — and more colorful — reality.

Appalachia is not a homogenous region today, and, even historically, diversity has always been present. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, Appalachia was home to thousands of Native Americans, mostly Cherokee. Following their forcible removal via the 1838 Trail of Tears, around 1,400 natives remained in the mountains, forming the core of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

At the same time that the natives were being forced out, Africans were being forced in. By 1860, people of African descent made up between 10 and 15 percent of the region’s population. These slaves brought with them the akonting and ngoni, precursors to the five-string banjo. The combination of African-American blues with other musical imports formed what would become one of the region’s most popular exports: modern-day country and bluegrass music.

Invariably, the commingling of cultures led to intermarriages that created ethnic and racial combinations new to the region. Even as diversity increased, racist laws supported a climate of white superiority while facilitating the disenfranchisement of non-whites, who were clumped into a category then dubbed “coloreds.” This term was used to signify Native Americans, Africans and even Irish immigrants upon their initial arrival.

Other European immigrants were lured to the area by the first major coal boom at the end of the 19th century. As demand for miners increased, coal operators began to look outside the region for more workers; they particularly targeted eastern and southern European immigrants. Between 1820 and 1920, more than 60,000 Italians, Hungarians, Austrians, Russians, Poles and other immigrant workers had settled in the Appalachian coalfields, constituting as much as 40 percent of the workforce. African Americans from further south were also drawn to the mines and surrounding timber camps, creating a melting pot of diversity in central Appalachia.

Yet, the jobs that initially drew these newcomers to America and to the region did not last. The coal slump of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s led to widespread unemployment, with vast numbers of workers leaving for northern industrial cities, reducing both Appalachia’s population and diversity. By 1990, minorities made up only 9 percent of Appalachia’s total population, with African Americans comprising the vast majority of this subgroup.

Diversity on the Rise

During the past three decades, however, diversity has been increasing throughout the region, particularly in urban areas and university towns. In the 1990s, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for nearly half the region’s population growth, while the Latino population increased by nearly 240 percent. West Virginia alone welcomed new residents from 31 different countries during that time period. Many of these newcomers were drawn to the region for work in specific industries, including poultry processing in East Tennessee, Christmas tree farming in western North Carolina and horse farms in West Virginia. By 2010, minorities accounted for more than 16 percent of the region’s population.

Despite the influx of such newcomers, minority population rates in Appalachia remain well below the national average. Yet, contemporary Appalachia is undeniably a much more multicultural place today than it was even thirty years ago, a fact that is gaining wider recognition among artists, academics and leaders of nonprofits, if not yet the general American public. Today, Heifer International’s Blue Ridge Seeds of Change initiative supports the growing number of Latino food producers in Appalachian North Carolina, while the Affrilachian Artist Project chronicles the experience of African Americans across the region.

Even the federal government has come to embrace a broader understanding of the region’s demographics; in response to a petition filed by Appalachian scholar Fred Hay in 2005, the Library of Congress officially changed its Subject Heading that referred to the people of Appalachia as “Mountain Whites” to “Appalachians (People).” This seemingly minor triumph indicates a much greater one — Appalachia’s long-whitewashed image is finally being colored in to reveal a more nuanced, accurate portrait of the region and its history.

Ralph Davis: Exploring Appalachia’s Future

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Nolen Nychay

Photo courtesy of Ralph Davis

Photo courtesy of Ralph Davis

In his 21 years of journalistic work at publications such as the Jackson County Sun, Paintsville Herald and Floyd County Times, Ralph Davis developed a close relationship with the small communities of eastern Kentucky and the rural lifestyle the region prides itself on. When Davis began work on his master’s thesis in new media journalism last year, he used the opportunity to explore the underlying economic issues of his region through a medium of reporting unfamiliar to him: documentary filmmaking.

Davis’s public awareness project started in 2012 by questioning what the future of Appalachia might look like. “I didn’t want to narrow my focus with a specific agenda,” Davis says. “I wanted to let the project develop organically through authentic voices in the community.”

The documentary, titled “Appalachia 2050,” features a combination of nonprofit workers, university professors, journalists and area residents who offer their thoughts on what is holding the region back from economic prosperity. Highlighting sources of poverty — from dwindling opportunities in Kentucky’s once-booming coal industry to the lack of technical schools for tomorrow’s workers — the documentary explores how community collaboration may offer hope for the future. “While there may be disagreement on how exactly to get there, these people are unified in their desire for a healthy, vibrant Appalachia,” Davis says.

27 Visionaries

Davis completed his documentary this past July, after eight months of research and interviews. He hopes to expand “Appalachia 2050” into a web series, delving further into issues of community development in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

View “Appalachia 2050” at ralphbdavis.com

Ada Smith: Giving Voice to Appalachia

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Kimber Ray

Photo courtesy of Ada Smith

Photo courtesy of Ada Smith

Amidst the economic and social upheaval sweeping through Appalachia, art and media may seem like unexpected tools for approaching the challenges the region faces today. However, through her work with Appalshop — a media and cultural center in Whitesburg, Ky.— Ada Smith has witnessed how creating and sharing stories can empower communities.

As the daughter of two of Appalshop’s founding filmmakers, Smith has a deep-rooted connection to the organization. After receiving a degree in Appalachian Studies from Hampshire College in 2010, she spent three years working as the program coordinator and co-director for Appalachian Media Institute, Appalshop’s youth media training program. Although her role facilitating the program meant that Smith rarely saw herself as a creator, Smith has embraced the AMI vision of “creating a new Appalachian culture.”

Encouraging people to question the circumstances they’ve become accustomed to is a principal function that Smith feels AMI serves. One video demonstrating the program’s ability to influence dialogue for change is “Because of Oxycontin,” which presents the personal stories of Oxycontin addicts to depict the drug’s devastation. According to Smith, the youth-produced video helped spark the ongoing policy debate regarding the marketing and overprescription of Oxycontin in the region.

Smith was working to engage the community on critical issues in Appalachia even before her employment with AMI. In response to the exodus of youth leaving the region for opportunities elsewhere, Smith and three others formed The STAY Project in 2008. Short for Stay Together Appalachian Youth, the project connects rising Appalachian leaders for a four-day summer institute of social and environmental justice workshops. By encouraging youth to demand change in their communities, Smith explains, STAY empowers youth to remain in Appalachia as active participants.

27 Visionaries

In August 2013, Smith was appointed Appalshop’s institutional development director to champion the value of the organization’s work and to develop events and partnerships enhancing fundraising. She also continues to be an active participant in The STAY Project. “Media and art makes people look at things differently, it makes them value themselves and their culture differently,” Smith says, “and without that encouragement for people to reevaluate their situation, it’s not apparent how we’re going to create a new economy.”

To learn more, visit appalshop.org

Choose Your Own [Historical] Adventure: An Appalachian Travel Guide

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 - posted by Rachel
From left to right: The Lost Sea; Burke's Gardens; Pocahontas Exhibition Mine.

From L to R: The Lost Sea of Sweetwater, Tenn.; Burke’s Gardens; Pocahontas Exhibition Mine.

When my editor first asked me to compile a list of “Historical Hidden Treasures,” I imagined my words guiding readers to ancient, geological wonders; down fossil-riddled hiking trails through former sea basins; deep into old growth forests squirming with endemic salamanders and a host of yet-undiscovered species. My brave readers would venture into the unknown to chart the unseen, name the unnamed, describe the unsung – all while practicing “leave no trace” trail ethics!
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In Defense of the Earth: An Appalachian Poet’s Presence

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 - posted by brian

Stream “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet” below or watch it on Moyers & Company by clicking here.

Widely celebrated as a caretaker of the culture and myth of rural America, Wendell Berry has a distinct drawl and speaks like he writes, eloquently but with simple words and equal parts conviction and compassion. Beyond being a renowned poet and author, Berry is an abiding presence in the environmental movement — especially among those of us who live in or love Appalachia.

A new presentation by Moyers & Company, “Wendell Berry, Poet & Prophet,” provides a portrait of the literary icon’s growth and influence, his relationship with the land and his hopes for humanity.

Among the topics covered — industrialization, wealth inequality, the indifference of elected leaders to environmental degradation — is Berry’s anti-mountaintop removal activism, and his participation in a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest mountaintop removal.
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Podcasting Appalachian History

Monday, October 14th, 2013 - posted by meredith
Dave Tabler runs the popular AppalachianHistory.net blog.

Dave Tabler runs the popular AppalachianHistory.net blog.

By Bill Kovarik

Dave Tabler’s education in art history didn’t prepare him to be an Appalachian historian so much as his hope to overcome the way his father “spent a lifetime running away from mean jokes about marrying your cousin and swilling moonshine.”

After helping his father with a book, Tabler started the Appalachian History blog in 2006 (appalachianhistory.net) as a personal exploration. By 2013, Dave Tabler had over 1,300 blog entries and hundreds of podcasts on topics ranging from mountain music to labor history to the personal experiences of Appalachian people.

Tabler tackles the stereotypes in the blog, trying to remain balanced between the underlying truth about lawlessness among moonshiners but also the destructive stereotypes of backwoods hooligans.

One of the most interesting things about the podcasts and blogs is what readers say in the comments section below the articles. The comments often show the ways that history can collect around open, informal presentations that invite reaction.

In the comments below an article about the 1920 shoot-out and trial in Matewan, W.Va., for instance, this exchange took place:

Sara: My Grandfather was part of this trial I have a copy of the transcripts, and at one point he was sentenced to 99 years later dropped
Doug: Sara, I would love to talk to you. I have Sid Hatfield’s police badge. I also have Albert and Lee Felts’ Baldwin Felts badges
Liz: Doug and Sara, please let me know if there is any way to get a copy of the transcript or a picture of the badges. My husband and I just purchased T.L. Felts home…

Nostalgia is important to Tabler. “Yes, I still love posts about swimming in mud holes and firing BB guns at bottles,” he admits. “But if that’s all I offer my readers, they’ll weary of the site quickly.”

“These days I get excited over interviewing and offering up work by innovative scholars, authors, filmmakers, and preservationists who have fresh perspectives on the region’s history,” he said. “I want to share with my readers and listeners the idea that history is a living thing, a deep reservoir from which to nourish today’s culture, a tool to shape our current notions of what our heritage is and therefore what to do next to preserve and extend it.”

A Waterfall and a View at Bad Branch State Nature Preserve

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Dana Kuhnline

Bad Branch Falls near Whitesburg, Ky., was one of the first hikes I experienced when I moved to Appalachia almost 10 years ago. I happened to be chaperoning two vans full of at-risk teenagers on a weekend trip from West Virginia to Whitesburg. The last stop before heading home was this hike.

The rewarding day hike at Bad Branch State Nature Preserve connects to the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which spans 42 miles. Photo by Sherman Cahal, americanbyways.com

The rewarding day hike at Bad Branch State Nature Preserve connects to the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which spans 42 miles. Photo by Sherman Cahal, americanbyways.com

To get to Bad Branch State Nature Preserve from Whitesburg, you take U.S. Route 119 over the impressive Pine Mountain, a ridge stretching from Tennessee to Virginia formed when West Africa collided into North America more than 275 million years ago. Now the second-highest mountain in Kentucky, Pine Mountain’s views and hairpin turns left me gasping at the massiveness of geologic forces and the comparative smallness of 16 sleep-deprived youths gazing quietly into the endless green rolling hills.

I’ve traveled back to Bad Branch State Nature Preserve on the south side of Pine Mountain several times since it first impressed me with its diverse forest and ability to awe angsty teenagers. The preserve started as 435 acres in 1985, but has grown to more than 2,500 acres through a state partnership with several conservation funds. Its rich ecosystems contain a number of rare species of wildflowers, occasional black bears and Kentucky’s only known nesting pair of common ravens.

Once on the trail, it’s about a mile of steady uphill to a side trail that takes you to Bad Branch Falls. The well-kept trail climbs along the beautiful Bad Branch, a state-designated Kentucky Wild River. There are several small footbridges that make for easy crossing and pretty pictures. The shady gorge is filled with rhododendron and a healthy forest with a few impressive hemlocks that were spared from 1940s logging. The first mile is popular with local residents, possibly because the sandstone cliffs and 60-foot falls at the end are one of the best places in the world for a picnic.

Bad Branch Falls is impressive year-round, with perfect boulders to scramble over to enjoy the spray at the foot of the falls and startlingly green ferns to frame the rainbows that often appear in the splashing water. The waterfall is too popular to feel completely secluded, but the upshot is that there might be a friendly stranger handy to snap a group photo for you.

After you have finished sunning yourself on the rocks beneath the waterfall, or perhaps even taken a quick shower in the falls themselves, you can head back to the car or continue up to the High Rock Loop Trail, which is a steep two miles to the crest of Pine Mountain. If you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views off of the sandstone cliffs at High Rock. It’s a wonderful place to contemplate how this 125-mile-long ridge stymied early settlers, who were forced to travel to Whitesburg via this steep trail. Even today, there are few roads crossing Pine Mountain; its inconveniently rugged beauty has thus far protected it from extensive human development.

Watch the signs carefully, because at this point the High Rock Loop Trail meets with the Highland Section of Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which travels north up and down the ridge for 42 strenuous, view-filled miles. If you have brought a map of the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, you might enjoy checking out a few of the rock formations and overlooks along this adjacent section – but keep an eye on your time. The lot at Bad Branch does not allow overnight parking, so if you’re looking for a longer adventure along the ridge you’ll need to leave your car at the trailhead for Pine Mountain Scenic Trail located nearby on U.S. Route 119.

Though the journey back from High Rock Loop to the Bad Branch parking lot will revisit some of the same trail, the varied forest and peeks into the gorge keep the walk interesting. To me, the best walks have rock formations to scramble over, epic views or a waterfall. Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve has all three packed into a strenuous but rewarding day-hike just a few miles off the highway.

Bad Branch Falls, KY.

Where: Lethcer County, Ky., 8 miles south of Whitesburg, Ky. From US 119, turn left onto KY 932 (following signs for Bad Branch), travel east for 2 miles to gravel parking area on left side of KY 932.
Length: 1 mile to Bad Branch Falls, 5 miles round-trip to the crest of Pine Mountain along High Rock Loop Trail.
Facilities: None. Bring water or a water filter.
Pets: No pets are allowed at Kentucky State Nature Preserves.

Regional Mountain Photography Contest Seeks Entries for 2014

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Kimber Ray

"Towers" by Rob Travis won the 2013 Our Ecological Footprint Award

“Towers” by Rob Travis won the 2013 Our Ecological Footprint Award

The 11th annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition is now open for registration. competition invites both amateur and professional photographers to “showcase their interpretation of the unique character, people, places and pursuits that distinguish the Southern Appalachians.”

Competition categories include: Adventure, Best in Show, Blue Ridge Parkway: People on the Parkway, Culture, Our Ecological Footprint, Flora/Fauna, Landscape, and People’s Choice. The Our Ecological Footprint category, sponsored by Appalachian Voices and Mast General Store, is a chance for artists and the public to reflect on the human impact on the natural world.

The competition is supported by Virtual Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Appalachian State University Outdoor Programs, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, and Mast General Store, among others.

$4,000 in cash and prizes is available; winners will be announced at the end of March, 2014. Approximately 46 entries will be chosen for exhibition at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts in Boone, N.C., from April 4 to June 7. Submission deadline is Nov. 22. There is a $6 fee per image entered. Visit: appmtnphotocomp.org.

A Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky

This September marked a milestone success on the way to upholding the Clean Water Act, as a Kentucky court overruled a lax wastewater discharge permit at a coal-fired power plant in Trimble County. Under the original permit, Louisville Gas and Electric could release toxic coal ash — which contains pollutants such as mercury and arsenic — into the Ohio River.

The case was brought to court by several Kentucky-based environmental groups who asserted that the Kentucky Division of Water had issued a permit that was both unlawful and a threat to public health. The judge ruled that environmental regulators had failed to conduct proper analysis before issuing the permit, and sent it back to the agency for review and correction.

New River Land Trust Awarded Official Accreditation

After three years of rigorous assessment, The New River Land Trust will be joining the ranks of more than 200 of the nation’s most trusted conservation organizations. For its accomplishments in fostering public confidence while ensuring permanent land conservation, the organization has received official accreditation by the national Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission.

“By achieving accreditation, the NRLT has become an even more professional and capable land trust organization,” Board President Ann-Margaret Shortt declared in a recent press release. “Our permanence in, and dedication to, the New River region has been proven.”

The land trust has helped protect more than 22 miles of forests and farms along the New River. This year is shaping up to be both busy and fruitful as the group continues to educate landowners on the benefits of devoting their land to conservation.