At a gala event in Blowing Rock, NC, on October 7, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., joined Appalachian Voices to celebrate the organization’s 10th anniversary and announce a new RIVERKEEPER® program to protect the upper Watauga River.
Kennedy is a leading environmental advocate who serves as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson RIVERKEEPER® and Chairman of WATERKEEPER® ALLIANCE.
Standing before a stunning sunset backdrop of the Globe Forest, Kennedy said, “I am really happy about my association with Appalachian Voices because this is our kind of organization. They have been out here for ten years making sure that the robber barons don’t steal from us resources that belong to all Americans, whether you’re rich or poor, noble or humble, black or white.”
In praising Appalachian Voices’ first decade of effective advocacy, Kennedy focused on the organization’s work to fight mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining that involves blowing up entire mountains and dumping the rock into neighboring valleys, burying steams.
“Mountaintop removal is the biggest environmental battle of our hemisphere,” Kennedy stated. “You know, you can restore the Hudson River in perhaps a hundred years. But you will never, never, get these mountains back. This is truly a crime against every human being in the world.”
The gala event, held at the home of Appalachian Voices board member Leigh Dunston and his wife Pamela, brought together over 150 people from the region. The guests celebrated the past 10 years of Appalachian Voices’ effective advocacy and looked ahead to the organization’s next decade, including the new RIVERKEEPER® program.
The Upper Watauga RIVERKEEPER® will be the primary watchdog and spokesperson for the upper Watauga River, which runs from its headwaters on Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina to the dam at the foot of Watauga Lake in east Tennessee.
According to Harvard Ayers, Appalachian Voices board member, even near its headwaters in the mountains, the river faces runoff from pesticides, new development and an asphalt plant. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “There are a lot more threats than you might initially think.”
Stewart Skeate, a biologist at Lees-McRae College, added, “Unfortunately, uncontrolled development and lax environmental enforcement have degraded these rivers to the point that their ecological integrity is severely threatened. The need for the RIVERKEEPER® for the upper Watauga basin has never been greater.”
Watauga’s RIVERKEEPER® could be on the job by early 2008, Ayers said.
In addition to the RIVERKEEPER® announcement, the evening included a release of a rehabilitated hawk by Kennedy and a musical performance by Brenda Boozer, Metropolitan Opera soloist and Appalachian Voices board member. Board member Lamar Marshall spoke about the threats to the nearby Globe Forest, and board member Kathy Selvage described the tragedy of mountaintop removal in her home of Wise, VA.
Commenting on the presentations in his remarks, Kennedy said, “What I saw when Lamar spoke, when Harvard spoke, when Mary Anne spoke, was a deep understanding that democracy and environment are intertwined. You cannot get strong, sustainable environmental protection under any system but a locally functioning democracy.”
Ayers was awarded the organization’s first Harvard Ayers Award, recognizing outstanding leadership in protecting the Appalachian Mountains. Fred and Alice Stanback received the organization’s first Philanthropy Award.
Executive director Mary Anne Hitt summed up the impressive 10-year record of Appalachian Voices’ accomplishments, including the following:
· 23,000 people joined the national network to end mountaintop removal coal mining
· 3 million copies of the Appalachian Voice were distributed by volunteers in 6 states
· 10,000 people attended the organization’s public presentations about mountaintop removal and air pollution
· 1,000 business joined the Appalachian Voices Business League
· 3,000 landowners received copies of the sustainable forestry handbook published by the organization
· 108 Members of Congress signed on to support the Clean Water Protection Act, which would protect streams and sharply curtail mountaintop removal
· 200 million people who use Google Earth can take a guided tour of mountaintop removal that was created by Appalachian Voices and allies and selected by Google to be included in Google Earth
· The organization was instrumental in passing one of the strongest clean air laws in the nation, the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act
Reflecting on the evening, Hitt stated, “Our 10th anniversary was an unforgettable event, thanks to Mr. Kennedy and our many supporters who came together to celebrate this incredible organization. From the new RIVERKEEPER® program to our mountaintop removal work and beyond, I am confident Appalachian Voices will make significant gains for the region’s environment and communities in the coming decade.”