“You could walk through the forest. You could hear the animals. The woods like to talk to you. You could feel a part of Mother Nature. In other words, everywhere you looked there was life. Now you put me on the same ground where I walked, and the only thing you can feel is the vibration of dynamite or heavy machinery. No life, just dust. They’re doing the same thing to us they done to the Native Americans.”
Appalachia is not just a beautiful place to visit for ecologists and those hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. It is home to people who have lived, worked and raised families there for generations. It’s an area rich with forests, birds, fish-filled streams, and coal.
Once, mining underground for coal provided a livelihood for residents of these communities. As that traditional form of mining has given way to mountaintop removal, which requires fewer workers, the economy and the environment of Appalachia´s rural towns have been permanently damaged.
Mountaintop removal uses explosives to slice off the tops of mountains. The seams of coal are then extracted and processed, with the waste and toxins dumped into the valleys and streams as “fill.” People like Larry Gibson, who never would have been activists until their home places were destroyed, are calling attention to the tragedy and fighting to end it the practice of mountaintop removal.
Larry Gibson has lived on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia all his life. The property he owns, a few acres with several small buildings and the family cemetery, is the only green spot in an otherwise desolate landscape. He refuses to sell his property to a company and leave his home, though his land has rich beds of coal beneath it. This refusal comes at a cost. Miners, told that Gibson’s decision not to sell is an attempt to put them out of work, have shot at his home (visitors can see the bullet holes), and set fire to another building. Two of his dogs were killed, and he was run off the road in his truck. The stress of living in these conditions has taken its toll on his marriage; still, he won’t give in, saying, “If I stopped fighting for the land maybe we’d have a chance. But this is my heritage. How can I walk away from that?”
And so he stays. For two decades, his property has been a destination for thousands of journalists and environmental activists who want to see first-hand the devastating results of mountaintop removal. Seeing the green swath of Gibson´s property set against the vast gray wasteland is something coal companies don’t wish outsiders to witness.
Gibson records the growing list of the threats and vandalism against him, and travels the country talking to people about the crisis in the mountains, working to increase awareness and create change.
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