The Kentucky side of Black Mountain showing all mountaintops intact. (Photo: Flickr user iLoveMountains.org)
Written by Karen Nickless
In an earlier post I discussed the National Windows Preservation Standards Summit (sponsored by the Preservation Trades Network) that was held from July 22-July 29 at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the mountains of Kentucky. The goal of the Summit was to provide unbiased energy testing data for historic windows and to develop industry guidelines for the treatment of historic windows. The Summit garnered national press from The New York Times to the trade publication Window and Door.
The Summit focused on conserving our built environment, which of course benefits the natural environment. It was fitting that the Summit was held at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Founded in 1913 to serve the isolated Southeast Kentucky mountain community, the school's mission shifted in the 1970s to become a center for environmental education. Ironically, Pine Mountain’s 625 pristine acres sit in Harlan County, the heart of coal country. Coal is omnipresent, from the coal trucks on the mountain roads to bumper stickers that declare, “If You Don’t Like Coal, Don’t Use Electricity.”
While I was at the Summit I took an afternoon to visit the towns of Benham and Lynch. Benham and Lynch sit at the foot of Black Mountain, which was on the Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2010. Benham and Lynch were once model company towns with thriving local businesses and a hospital and schools provided by the coal company. Now Benham and Lynch are economically depressed and many old and historic buildings stand empty. The towns are developing heritage tourism, with attractions such as the Portal 31 exhibition mine and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.
Both illustrate that coal mining is an industry with a proud history, but mining coal has changed. Where deep shaft miners once brought the coal to the surface, now the coal is accessed by surface mining, often with an extraction method known as mountaintop removal, which literally removes the summit of a mountain to access coal. Mountaintop removal decimates flora and fauna and deposits debris into nearby creeks. The removal of mountaintops can cause dangerous flooding and rock slides. In 2005, on the Virginia side of Black Mountain, a three-year-old boy died when a boulder dislodged at a mountaintop removal site struck his house.... Read More →
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