Final Kayford Mountain Visit

Dr. Ross Conover posted the following on Facebook:

Ross Conover

I recently had what I now know to be my final Kayford Mountain (Mountaintop Removal Mining) field trip through Glenville State College (I’m moving to teach at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks). It was a good one and concludes 12 semesters of bringing between 36-128 students/semester to witness the environmental destruction this practice causes. I hope another professor will continue this … tradition, as a culture change on campus has become evident in the increasing amount of “I Love Mountains” bumper stickers roaming the parking lot. Perhaps the best way you could support stopping this destruction is to become a member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, if you aren’t already!
In keeping with traditions, I have summarized my favorite quotes from the student’s trip reviews:

“Pro mountaintop removal supporters don’t use scientific evidence to back up their cause. All they keep saying over and over is that coal keeps the lights on.”
“I was thirsty on this trip but afraid to drink water with all the discussion of tumors and vaginal cysts”
“When we looked at the site that had been reclaimed for over fifteen years, as a forestry major, I was shocked at how little even the fast-growing trees had actually grown. In undisturbed soil, these species would nearly be ready to harvest but here it would be at least another fifteen years to harvest them, if they even survive that long”
“this frustrates me that I’m a sophomore in college and this is the first time I’ve been taught about this subject…I think our public school systems should be forced to teach kids at a very early age about MTR and how we’re killing our own state”
“I found it shocking that coal slurry weighs 8 times heavier than water. On February 26, 1972 the Buffalo Creek Slurry Flood killed 125 people and injured 1,121 only four days after it passed inspection. With the Buffalo Creek impoundment containing only 32 million gallons of slurry. The impoundment near Kayford contains 80 billion gallons of slurry…those poor people in Whitesville and Sylvester are doomed if this ever breaks, so long as their well water or the coal dust in the air doesn’t kill them first”
“I’m from the city where everything is accessible except countryside. I find it disturbing that people in the countryside can so easily destroy something that is so rare to so many others.”
“The mountains which were once covered with beautiful hardwood forests are now barren acres of nonnative grasses…it makes me sad to think the birds come back from their long winter migration to find their home is gone.” “Hands down the best field trip I have ever been on and I will suggest this tour to everyone I know”
“It will only be a matter of time before mountaintop removal makes West Virginia a totally different landscape”
“This trip has been a very big eye opener in that now is the time to take action and to…come up with a way to save what is left of the mountains before there is nothing left to save”

“There are so many ways to make electricity and “keep the lights on” yet we keep damaging the environment that makes me wish there was a smarter species on Earth than humans”
“Despite being a Natural Resource Management major, I will never be that person who tries to stop mountain top removal mining because I come from a background where you do what you have to, to support your family…we do things far worse to the environment than blast it for coal, which by the way was put here by God for a reason…to keep the lights on”
“The settlement ponds had plants in them, so I disagree that these mining areas are poisoning the water and btw, I saw a salamander near the pond also, which proved that the water wasn’t so bad”
“I believe the biggest biological problem is the accumulation of massive amounts of toxic waste that nobody really knows what to do with. Sure, you can haul it wherever, put it in an impoundment that meets government standards—but will the waste still be there in 20+ years? And won’t it still be toxic?”
“The mood felt almost like a memorial service for the mountain and there was something oddly peaceful about it”
“The fact that the coal we mine is supposedly so good for WV’s economy was hard to fathom when I saw the poverty condition of the surrounding communities”
“Our field trip to Kayford Mountain has truly opened my eyes to the widespread destruction that MTR has on communities and their environment”
“I always figured coal was only mined because we needed it for electricity, but now I understand that we have the technology to produce the electricity without blasting mountains and coal is only mined because of coal company corruption”

“I’ve always been pro coal but seeing the environment reshaped is a little disturbing. I never realized there were such consequences that came from MTR mining until this trip…Another reflection is about Larry Gibson. Learning about him was moving to me as he stood up for what he thought was right in his eyes even when no one else did. It takes courage to stand up for something like that as it was basically the government against Larry”
“I first heard of MTR in seventh grade…english teacher had I Love Mountains stickers all over her classroom…all of the kids just made fun of her, but none of them realized just how important her message was”
“I have lived in WV all my life and was oblivious to just how detrimental MTR really is…opened my eyes that it is up to us to stop this from continuing and save our mountains for future generations”
“Pro MTR activists have only one argument: coal keeps the lights on…being raised in a pro coal area I cannot speak against it, but I do believe that something has to be done by someone”
“As an avid fisherman it hits home to see a trout stream now have orange tinged water from acid mine drainage and have no fish at all…loblolly pines are 18 years old and are severely stunted in growth and now worth any commercial value. This site will not be suitable for any forestry practices any more, at least in my lifetime”
“Sure, coal does provide electricity and create jobs in a place where there is nowhere else to work because the coal companies block everything else out”
“but the sun’s energy is 100% free, so…”
“trash/litter along the kayford/cabin creek road and in the stream was much more than I see in my home county in WV…I feel it has to do with the overall attitude and poverty from lack of economic diversity”
“Overall I found this to be a great field trip and I feel like students were shown MTR without a biased opinion. This subject is very political and everyone’s opinionated but the best approach is to just visit the site and see the destruction for yourself”

“Coming from a family that is pro coal I understand why this is a touchy subject, for I will probably not even tell my family about this field trip for they’ll be mad just that I was learning about this stuff…now have a more well-rounded view and understand that there are negative effects on the environment”
“I’m pro coal but darn these companies do a very poor job at reclaiming incredibly large areas of previously pristine hardwood forest. They should be forced to put it back exactly as it was regardless how much it would cost them”
“I’ve always wondered why the majority of these operations were so secretive, as if they had a reason to conceal their activities”
“I can honestly say I learned a great deal from this trip…it was impossible to be prepared for the scale of MTR mining…whereas I knew this could be seen from space what we cannot see from that distance is how blasting even miles away causes mountains to shift and create sinkholes hazardous to passersby”
“shocking to be within striking distance of the world’s largest coal sludge reservoir…quite sobering”
“the greatest danger in this situation are humans not knowing or choosing to ignore what MTR mining does to the environment…with a few water samples we proved that a couple hundred yards of settlement pond doesn’t do much to improve water quality…the pond was only slightly less conductive than 8 gauge copper wire”
“My favorite part was hearing about hardships endured by Larry (Gibson) and his family…not many people in the world with enough guts to resist millions of dollars for anything”
“The key is looking to new sources and thinking creatively to formulate new technology that can be used to produce power without coal.”
“there is only about 30 years of coal left that can be removed by MTR mining, and then the communities will be left with no jobs, bad water, and spoiled land not suitable for farming or most any other use…it amazes me these coal companies would lay to waste so much in their quest for…the Garshallmighty dollar”

“before this trip I had never realized there could be any negative environmental impacts from mountaintop removal mining because coal companies are pro hunting and fishing”
“I had always used the young red-spotted newts for fishing and never had any luck…when Conover caught one and explained about the toxins in their skin I realized why I never caught any fish with them”
“If only pro MTR activists could be a little bit open minded…reasonable possibility that we could put an end to the destruction of our mountains”
“I was stunned that even the older reclaimed sites looked nothing like a WV forest”
“People believe without coal we wouldn’t have energy, but Costa Rica’s whole country runs off renewable resources, so why can’t we? We are one of the most technologically advanced countries yet we don’t use it to preserve our own environments”
“I always wondered how MTR could possibly cause cancer and argued people who told me that…by releasing the mercury, arsenic, lead, selenium, manganese all in high concentrations it’s amazing that everyone around here doesn’t have tumors”
“Before this trip the only things I’d ever heard about MTR were from your past students who went on this trip”
“Coal leaves, cancer stays…I had planned on making WV my home for a very long time but now I’m somewhat afraid to”
“It makes me feel guilty to be human knowing that we would blow up something so beautiful just to make some money”
“It seems this issue comes down to jobs or mountains…I would rather lose jobs than mountains…what will happen when there is no more coal to dig?”
“My dad always told me MTR made mountains ugly, but now I know it also makes towns and communities ugly as well”
“I’ve lived my whole life in WV but never been to the southern coal fields because people are hateful and will kill you if you look at them wrong”

“I was always told the mountains look the same after they fix them post mining, but now I know they damage them to a point of no repair”
“Before this trip I thought we only removed coal by going underground and hadn’t realized we damage the surface too”

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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