She’ll be just shy of 50-years old before she can say with absolute certainty that her work on the mountain has been successful.
“Yes, I would like to come back in 17 years and see all these trees we’ve planted grown to maturity,” she says.
“We’re going to come back to a forest; we’re not going to come back to a bare field.”
This is the first time that Trent, program coordinator for the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, and her group of dedicated volunteers, have had the chance to see if the more than 3,650 trees they planted back in March had taken root.
“They’re doing real well,” Luke Esler, a VISTA Volunteer points out. With excitement usually reserved for sporting events, attention is drawn to the sea of greenery that now covers what was a barren mountaintop removal coal site.
Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team, an environmental group, partnered with Patriot Coal, the coal company responsible for the extraction of the coal from this Prenter mountaintop, to reclaim the land.
Trent presented David Hettinger, an engineer at Patriot Coal, with a certificate of appreciation at 11 a.m., this past Friday, while members of the ACC Watershed Team, VISTA Volunteers and Patriot Coal employees gathered to celebrate their accomplishments of reclaiming the land.
“Something that impressed me about the group, you hear a lot of moaning and groaning about the damage of coal mining. There are so few people who want to help repair the damage already done,” Hettinger said, praising the Watershed Team and VISTA Volunteers for their hard work to help plant the trees on the former surface mine site.
In March, 33 volunteers helped to plant 12 various species of hardwood trees. These include Persimon, White Oak, Black Oak, Sugar Maple, White Pine, Northern Red Oak and Green Ash. The group also planted 40 American Chestnut Trees.
“Patriot donated $5 per tree to purchase the blight-resistant Chestnut trees,” engineer Justin Dingess said, who shared the importance of the American Chestnut tree to the Appalachian Mountain region.
According to Dingess, the tree was originally used by frontiersmen who settled into the Appalachian area to make their log homes and buildings but the species of trees was nearly wiped out by a fungus. According to Joe Schibig, biology professor, 100 years ago, magnificent American chestnut trees dominated the forested hills and mountains over much of the eastern U. S.
They made their best growth on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains where some towered up to 100-feet and had diameters greater than 10-feet.
It has been estimated that one out of four trees in the Appalachian forests was an American chestnut prior to the arrival of the lethal chestnut blight, a fungal disease which destroys the bark tissues of the chestnut.
By 1950, billions of American chestnut trees in the eastern U. S. had been killed by this exotic fungus.
Foresters with the Office of Surface Mining, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, based the list of hardwood tree species to plant on the mountainside based on the species of trees surrounding the area.
“It was interesting to see how they try to restore nature back to its original state after mining. I was shocked to see how much they do to help,” said Elizabeth Dues, a Fayetteville resident and VISTA Volunteer. Ripping up the ground to plant the trees helped break up the hard compactness of the soil that occurred as mining equipment rolled back and forth across the surface site.
“I’d say ripping the ground has made it easier for the trees to grow,” commented Luke Esler, VISTA Volunteer.
The volunteers planted the trees 4-feet deep and have given the trees time to grow without the invasive grasses choking them out, Dingess and Trent explained. “You can only plant trees at a certain time for optimal results. July through August is too dry.
Springtime is the best time to plant the seedlings,” he explained. Trent knows what it is like to grow up in a coal mining town, as she herself comes from a small coal mining camp in Wyoming County.
“Before 1971, coal mining companies could go in and do whatever they wanted on the land and they polluted and when they were done, they left these pockets of people who relied on the coal industry for everything. These people were left with nothing. We [Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team] work in these types of communities to help them built their capacities,” Trent explained.
“We don’t work with anything that is active mining. We go in and deal with problems that have been caused from past mining and there’s enough things around here to keep us busy for a very long time,” she said.
According to Trent, her team wears orange t-shirts to bring awareness to acid mine drainage. “I’m sure you’ve seen areas where the water has run orange. That’s an indication that the water is coming from an abandoned mine,” she explained.
“We have groups throughout eight states teaching communities how to monitor their water and sewer,” she shared. “Their work on this project shows that Patriot Coal wants to make this better for the community,” she said, further noting, “Until there is alternative sources, we have to mine coal. We’re an environmental group and they were willing to partner with us to reclaim this mountain. That says a lot.”
“I applaud their efforts for working with us – it speaks volumes of their dedication to the communities they live in,” she said.
Hopefully, Trent says, the Prenter community can figure out what to do with the reclaimed land to help bring vitality back to the area. “Perhaps it will one day have a Hatfield-McCoy trail system on it, or it will be a place for hunting.
That, too, provides a life blood for the community.” What may deter the community from visiting the site is the steep, winding access road that takes commuters to the former surface mine site.
“For those of you who drove up the road today, be thankful. When transportation by car was not available, myself and some of our volunteers have had to walk up it,” Trent said.
Trent says she would like to work more in the Prenter communities, to help with resident complaints of contaminated water.
The Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team’s reclamation of surface mine sites is an Office of Surface Mining and VISTA Initiative.