Friday, November 13, 2009

Field Trip to the Coal Fields of West Virginia

On our final day at the Gauley River we packed up camp and drove two hours to the home of Larry. Larry’s home sits on a small mountain in Marsh Fork, West Virginia, the heart and soul of American coal mining. The 50-acre property is filled with this "black gold" and is valued at around 60 million dollars. Larry told us all about his life and the coal companies that he has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. After the presentation, the students were able see to dozens of mountain top removal sights from the safety of a nearby peak. I think I speak for every one when I say it was a bitter sight; we could see thousands of acres of destroyed mountains. Thick vegetation used to cover the vast hillsides; it has now been reduced to dirt and rock. It was hard to comprehend the damage to the surrounding environment. This unique experience opened our eyes to harmful ways of the American coal industries.

After the tour of Larry’s property we drove to Marsh Fork Elementary. The elementary school is less than a hundred yards from an enormous coal silo. Ivan Steifel, a former WCKA teacher and anti coal activist, gave us a brief presentation about the poor air and water quality in the surrounding area. The school also sits just below the dam of a 2.8 billion gallon coal slurry. A coal slurry is a large body of water that serves as a dumping ground for coal waste. Coal slurries create highly toxic waste that can leak into surrounding wells and ground water supplies. I had never known how coal companies can affect the health of local communities.

During the last leg of our journey we visited the Coal River Mountain Watch base camp. The CRMW is a group of people fighting against coal mining. The students piled in to House #3, in which we were able to interact with members of CRMW and discuss the issues with coal mining. Every one at the Coal River base camp had interesting perspectives and stories to share.

By the end of the day we all came out with a plentiful set of knowledge on coal mining. Being able to see coal mining and its effects on the environment was one of the coolest field trips I have ever been apart of. I feel that I learned more about coal mining at WCKA than I ever could have in a formal classroom.

Eric Parker

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