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The Planet

By Kim Todd

A Lighter Shade of Green

The term "environmentalist" has a slew of definitions, covering both those who recycle religiously and those who protest free trade in Quebec.

But Vice President Dick Cheney was redefining the concept when he told Meet the Press, "I think I am a pretty good environmentalist, though the Sierra Club might not agree with that."


More Trails, and Unusual Views, in West Virginia

coal mining in West VirginiaIt's not your typical scenic overlook. Hikers who reach the end of the trail peer down over a moonscape of mining waste, an acidic heap of rock and soil where a mountain once stood. The dragline - an excavating machine that operates 24 hours a day - continues to chew away at what's left.

"The thing that hits you when you first see it is how destructive it is. They're not just removing the coal; they're removing the entire mountain. There's no way they're going to restore that," says Paul Wilson, chair of the West Virginia Chapter, who helped build the trail.

The new trail was the brainchild of Larry Gibson, a mining activist who lives nearby. When Gibson grew up near Kayford Mountain, it towered 1,200 feet above his house. Then the mining started, using a technique called "mountaintop mining," shearing off peaks to get at the coal inside and then dumping the soil into adjoining valleys, choking streams. Now he looks down to see Kayford - or the remains of it.

The vision of the wrecked landscape inspired him to invite others to take a look and learn about the true costs of this type of coal production. High school students, activists, reporters and politicians have already made the trek out to his land. The new one-fifth-mile trail will offer an even better view of the current operation.

Along with Wilson, Dean Whitworth, Jim Sconyers and eight students from the Appalachian Experience Club at Wheeling Jesuit University helped remove roots and downed trees from the trail and level off the ground.

At the end of the day, Wilson gazed through binoculars at the mine in progress below.

"Until you see it, you can't believe it," he says.

Backpacking Activists Hike the Hill

Even with an environmentalist as the country's vice president, Sierra Club members in Washington, D.C., for National Forest Protection Week stuck out. Their "End Commercial Logging" stickers and backpacks didn't fit in on a Capitol Hill overrun with Armani suits, according to Peggy Bruton, chair of the Cascade (Washington) Chapter's Sasquatch Group.

"We were instantly recognizable as who we were," she adds, noting that lobbyists from extractive industries, itching to get while the getting is good, were out in full force.

But so were Club activists. The 64 attendees traveled from 19 states and the District of Columbia to attend workshops and to meet with their legislators.

After a long week, they were happy to see that 73 original co-sponsors signed on to the National Forest Protection Act of 2001 (H.R. 1494), introduced on April 4. The bill, which would end timber sales on public lands, started off with 48 co-sponsors last session.

Happy Trails in Maui

In their efforts to maintain a two-mile trail leading to a fern grove, the Maui Group of the Hawaii Chapter gathered something besides roots, branches and the occasional blister: an award.

The annual Service Award, presented by the Na Ala Hele Advisory Council for the state's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, honors organizations and individuals who have built and improved trails in Hawaii. The Maui Group has been performing upkeep on the Waihou Springs Trail three times a year since 1994.

Famous Trail Gets Good Coverage

The Club earned more kudos as Sierra magazine picked up one of the Western Publications Association's Maggie awards in the "Public Service" category for its May 2000 issue on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Read the award-winning articles.

Club Mourns Death of Activist

Three months ago, The Planet profiled Tripp Pittman, a Presbyterian minister in a small, rural church, and full-time clean-water organizer for the North Carolina Chapter.

We are sad to report that Pittman died on April 12 following a brief illness.

Says chapter lobbyist David Knight, "He was one of the nicest and most gracious people you could ever meet, and a person who was involved only in matters that dealt with the 'raising up' of the common man, of everyday human beings. That is why, I think, Tripp got involved with the Sierra Club."

Pittman lived near Greenville with his wife Laura, 2-year-old son Sam and 5-month-old daughter Annie. The North Carolina Chapter has set up a special fund for the family. Donations may be made to Pittman Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 2092, Greenville, N.C., 27836-0092.

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