Monday, August 1, 2011

Unveiling Appalachia's Dirty Little Secret

Written by Trip Organizer and Charleston, WV native Nicole Holstein.

Mountaintop removal mining is Appalachia’s dirty secret. Despite increasing news and government attention, I meet peers constantly that have no idea what MTR even is, much less the extent to which it affects communities and economies in this region.

My environmental student group, Students for Environmental Awareness (or SEA for short), from Marietta College were lucky enough to be able to visit one of the most contentious MTR sites in West Virginia, Kayford Mountain.

Driving up the bumpy mountain road in our van, we at once appreciated the beauty and feared what we would see around the next turn. We pulled up to Larry’s property where he told us briefly about his family’s struggle with the effects of mining and the abuse they have suffered at the hands of coal supporters. Standing in his driveway, we could not yet see the MTR site over the ridge, and there no mining activities that day to hear.

He asked us to stop and listen as he asked,‘What don’t you hear?"

“Birds,” I said. The entire mountain valley was silent as a grave.

He walked us to the edge of his property, passed coal-dust covered vehicles and houses, passed trees covered in sickly lichen, and we stepped over the ridge; you could sense the feeling of pain we all shared at that moment. Before us was a moonscape. Juxtaposed against the surrounding mountains which were still green and beautiful, where life-giving rivers still meandered between, was this abomination. And looking around, you knew the same fate threatens all that you could see.

One question people always ask when I tell them about Mountaintop Removal, or when they first see what a Mountaintop Removal site looks like is “Why?” We know the answers-money, greed. But it still doesn’t make sense to us. To the majority of people, the raping of the mountains and the abandonment of communities like the dumping of overburden into a valley is incomprehensible. And that is why Mountaintop Removal is Appalachia’s dirty secret.

If people knew, if people saw, they would stop it. That’s why trips like these are so important, and why groups like SEA are so important, and why work like what the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation does is so important. I made a short video from the footage I had on my cell phone and put it on YouTube, one of the most powerful tools of communication we have today. It was simple and small, but the impacts could be far larger than the effort I put into it. I hope people see. I hope people visit. I hope people act.

Nicole Holstein
Students for Environmental Awareness
Marietta College
Marietta, OH

P.S. To schedule a tour of Kayford Mountain and see Mountaintop Removal first-hand, call Larry Gibson at 304-542-1134 or Danny at 304-205-0920 or email us at at least a week in advance and we'll schedule a tour for you.