Front Porch Blog

First Time Visit To Southwest Virginia

I recently had the opportunity to get out of the office for awhile and explore the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. This particular region of Appalachia is stunningly beautiful. Steep mountains, deep fertile valleys, and enormous rock formations. Driving out of North Carolina I was amazed at how different the composition of the mountains were from Western North Carolina. Long ridges and exposed rocky bluffs characterize the region.

As I slowly wound my way into the coalfields of Virginia, I began to experience a certain feeling that for me, inevitably accompanies time spent in the coal country. It’s an uneasy feeling, a realization that there are terrible things happening in the region all in the name of cheap energy. The deeper into southwest Virginia we drove the more intense the feeling became. The closer you get to coal country the more apparent it becomes. Coal trucks become the prominent vehicle on the small winding roads, men are seen in reflective striped clothing,work trucks rumble up hollows covered in grey dust, coal trains dominate rail traffic. Also endemic to the region are small depressed towns that have been subject to a century of boom and bust spurts of growth and recession.

I have spent a fair amount of time in the coal producing counties of West Virginia. It is where I was first exposed to the horrors of mountaintop removal coal mining. Consequently, when I think of mountaintop removal I instantly think of West Virginia. I visualize the mines that I have actually seen, the close personal friends who are suffering from the effects of this egregious form of mining.
I am painfully aware that mountaintop removal exists, and flourishes in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, yet I attach Mountaintop Removal to my own personal experiences, most of which have been in the coalfields of West Virginia…this would all change after my visit to Virginia.

I came to southwest Virginia, to explore a new region of Appalachia, and to experience firsthand the terrible accounts of the destruction that is happening there due to almost unregulated strip mining.

I had the unique opportunity to tour Wise County with a man that has lived there his entire life. He spent 31 years digging for coal in local deep mines. This former deep miner is outraged, and intensely saddened by the mining that is literally destroying his home (25% of Wise County has already been strip mined). He took me to high mountain ridges that allowed unencumbered views of the mines that are ravaging the mountains of Virginia. I looked on in silence at valley fills that spill mining waste into backyards, creeks that run orange with mining waste, and homes blanketed in coal dust covered by the the near constant stream of coal trucks that scream along the small county roads.

Pick a hollow in Wise County, follow the narrow lanes that lead into them, at the head of the hollow one of two things will likely confront you. An underground coal mine, or more likely the entrance to an enormous mountaintop removal mine. There is no hiding these mines. There are no veils of trees that obscure their utterly destructive nature. The hollows are not deep enough to allow the mountain tops to vanish with little notice. In Southwest Virginia these terrible strip mines are in your face, usually only hundreds of yards from neighborhoods.
I will forever equate mountaintop removal with this experience. I now can see that this form of strip mining is more than just a threat to West Virginia, it is a threat to the environment and culture an entire region.





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