Visiting Kayford Mountain

(These images are in a “gallery” format, so if you click on them, you can see them full size)

During the annual Grand Aspirations August Gathering in West Virginia, we went on a tour of Kayford Mountain with the Keepers of the Mountain Foundation. Started by Larry Gibson to protect the mountains and stop mountaintop removal, the foundation and Larry’s family look after a 50 acre piece of land that is surrounded by 7,500 acres of mountaintop removal sites. Larry was offered millions for his property, but refused to give it up. This gift, and his lifelong dedication to stopping MTR has provided the public a rare access point to see the destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining.


(Panorama by Joe Gorman)

 If you are unfamiliar with the process of mountaintop removal mining (or MTR), it is a particularly destructive and hazardous type of strip mining, where the tops of mountains are blown up to reveal the coal seams inside them. The process destroys habitats, buries rivers with “overburden,” pollutes the air and water, and displaces entire communities. There are many people in Appalachia who have dedicated endless hours to stopping mountaintop removal mining and to disrupting the fossil fuel economy everywhere. They know much more about MTR than I do, so I am going to link to some blogs and suggest some books where you can find more information. If you have other resources, please add them in the comments.

Keepers of the Mountain:

Coal River Mountain Watch:

Mountain Justice:

Coal Tattoo:

Coal Country:

Shirley Steward Burns, Bringing Down the Mountains

Erik Reece, Lost Mountain

Michael Shnayerson, Coal River

Silas House and Jason Howard, Something’s Rising

Bryan T. McNeil, Combatting Mountaintop Removal

Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Rebecca Scott, Removing Mountains

(This collection of books was compiled by my MTR professors at Wesleyan University, Professors Bill Johnston and Eiko Otake)

During our visit to Kayford Mountain, we were privileged to see an active mountaintop removal site, as well as a reclaimed site. We also visited Larry Gibson’s cabin and met some of his extended family, who volunteer to take care of the land so that it is accessible to folks from all over the world to learn about mountaintop removal. Hoot, Larry Gibson’s uncle (pictured below), generously told us stories about growing up surrounded by mountains that no longer form his horizon, and about how, as a kid, he knew it was time for bed when the sun ducked behind their peaks.

Following are reflections from other members of the GA community about our visit to Kayford Mountain:

  “Kayford Moutain was an overwhelming experience for me – I grew up in Colorado and recently lived in the mountains there.  I saw mountains as permanent features of the landscape, at least on my human time scale.  The feeling was a mixture of awe, such as I might feel seeing a vast natural feature like the Grand Canyon, mixed with incomprehension that anyone could do such a thing.  It really gave me a sense of humans as a geologic force, and I remembered the same sort of thing is happening to Greenland as a consequence of the coal mined.  As I was filming our guide, my eyes filled with tears and my vision blurred.  For the rest of the day I was a basket case, crying several times that afternoon.  That night I dreamed of the scene – I was walking up the same trail, saying to myself that I didn’t want to be there again.  My hope for a silver lining is that the experience might make me stronger in my work as a solar advocate.  I said to myself: “Don’t mourn – solarize!”  (My solar site –” – Joy


“On my experience viewing Kayford Mountain:

Looking at the beautiful lumps of earth we call mountains, I have always felt a similar sensation to when I look at the stars; an incredible sense of humility and perspective.  Peaking over the edge of Kayford Mountain and looking down at the chopped and dissected earth it was as if someone shot the stars from the sky…everything became wrong and backwards” – Marissa


(Panorama by Joe Gorman)

“We must stop using coal now. Extreme energy practices are in our homes—when we flip a coal-powered light switch, we are pressing the button that blows up a mountain. There is no removal of ourselves from this process—we are the oppressors if we are not resistors” – Anthony


Thank you to Larry Gibson, his family, and the Keepers of the Mountains Foundation for preserving this haven and welcoming us.


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