America's Most Endangered Mountains - Wilson Creek, KY
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"I always enjoy seeing folks make that transition from being just victims to being folks that are able to help other folks, and leaders in the community. It's the root of our democracy at work when it happens." - Beverly May, resident of Wilson Creek, KY
Beverly May's family has lived on Wilson Creek in Floyd County, Kentucky, for five generations, and was one of the first settling families in the region. Located in the heart of coal country in eastern Kentucky, Floyd County is dotted with small, quiet communities and families with stories similar to Beverly May's. The region, which lies within the Big Sandy Valley of eastern Kentucky, houses the Mountain Arts Center and the Kentucky Opry, and the Country Music Highway runs through the county seat of Prestonsburg. Country music stars such as Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakam were born in neighboring counties. The Middle Creek National Battlefield in Floyd is the site of the largest and most significant Civil War battle in Eastern Kentucky, and the beautiful Jenny Wiley State Resort Park lies near the center of the county.
Floyd - part of the Appalachian Mountains' Cumberland Plateau and once lush with beautiful hardwood forests - is one of the twelve major coal-producing counties in eastern Kentucky. In the last 30 years, Kentucky coal counties have seen a decrease in the amount of deep mined coal and an increase in the amount of strip-mined and mountaintop removal coal mining. Simultaneously, the number of mining jobs have decreased by 82%, resulting in high unemployment numbers for Floyd County.
Today, Miller Brothers Coal Company is trying to move into the small community of Maytown and mine the unspoiled ridge top above Wilson Creek. Plans include three valley fills, which would bury the headwaters of Wilson Creek and Big Fork. The Big Sandy River, which Wilson Creek flows into, is already known as the most polluted river in the state.
Hard experience has taught eastern Kentucky that a large mine can devastate a community. Homes can be severely damaged by blasting, water wells are lost, dust from coal trucks and the mine itself can make it difficult to breath and flash flooding is a worry every spring. Flooding is already so frequent and severe in Floyd County that the Army Corp of Engineers is relocating the small town of Martin. Many families become discouraged or intimidated and leave. Two families on Wilson Creek have sold their land to Miller Brothers and a few absentee landowners have leased their rights, but the majority of the 94 families who live in the community are fighting to save their homes.
"If you get put in this position you find out real fast that you can't do nothing [on your own], you have to organize and you have to fight it however you can," said Beverly.
Beverly May has joined with other local residents to oppose the planned mine and save her community. With help from the regional group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), they have succeeded in banning coal trucks on the curvy one-lane road that runs along Wilson Creek, but their fight is far from over.
"If enough land owners say no I absolutely will not sign, it means that it's not profitable, so what we have done is very vocally and publicly said no...not in my lifetime this is not going to happen," said Beverly.
To support Beverly and her community contact Kentuckians for the Commonwealth at 606-878-2161 or at www.kftc.org