Environmental justice and activism takes all sorts of different forms. Images of picketing and protesting and dramatic demonstrations come to mind, but realistically, environmental justice in Tucker County looks a lot more like restoring mine-scarred land and respecting our history, while still learning from past environmental mistakes. Experience Learning, an education center based out of Spruce Knob that gets kids and adults out of the classroom and into their environments, brought a group of students from the Edmund Burke School in DC out to Tucker County for an environmental justice-themed trip.
They started off in the Buxton and Landstreet Gallery, the old Company Store, where our offices are located, for a history lesson about the area. We talked about Henry Gassaway Davis and the industry that he created in these mountains, as well as the damage that that industry left behind. Briefly mentioning some of the protection and restoration that Friends of Blackwater is doing, we headed out to test some impaired water and visit the coke ovens and Douglas Falls.
A short drive on the rail trail along the North Fork brought us to the site of the future limestone leachbeds and retention pond that will replace the existing non-functional water treatment system, and will clean a good bit of water that empties into the North Fork and eventually, the Blackwater River. A little ways down, we stopped by the coke ovens and imagined ourselves as coke oven workers, shoveling coal in and shoveling coke out, night and day, raking the hot refuse out of the ovens and into the woods and water, directly polluting the streams for decades. While those waters are no longer being directly polluted by coke, the mines that the coal came out of still dumps pounds and pounds of heavy metals and acids into the Blackwater River watershed.
We brought our vegetarian lunches down to Douglas Falls and picnicked by the rushing water, swelled due to the increase in rain we’ve had lately, and talked about what it means to be an activist and an environmental advocate for underserved populations. Burke School’s newly established activism and justice group is only starting their work around the area, but we are so thankful to have been able to host them and look forward to partnering with and hosting them again next spring!