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WV Land Polluted by Coal Mines Transforms into Recreation Area

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A new nature preserve in West Virginia represents an innovative approach to restoring land polluted by former coal mines. (Flickr)
A new nature preserve in West Virginia represents an innovative approach to restoring land polluted by former coal mines. (Flickr)
 By Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV - Producer, Contact
October 16, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As a result of a lawsuit over water pollution from mining, a tract of land that once housed surface mines is being repurposed as a public recreation area for West Virginians.

The Mammoth Preserve in Kanawha County will offer mountain biking, hiking trails and other amenities. A coalition of environmental groups sued the Alpha Natural Resources mining company more than 10 years ago over selenium discharge that contaminated nearby waters.

Cindy Rank is the chair of the mining committee at the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups involved in the court case. She said Alpha agreed to transfer the land to correct the pollution problems.

"I just hope that people see these as positive outcomes of what are normally seen as negative actions, like taking people to court or even suing them," said Rank. "And sometimes there are good things that come out."

The 5,000-acre plot of land is part of the old Cannelton mines and is being developed by the West Virginia Land Trust and the Appalachian Headwaters. The Trust will manage the preserve for wildlife habitat, water protection and recreation access.

Rank said the preserve represents a new approach to restoring land polluted by former coal mines. She pointed out that in the past, mines would be abandoned and the land left deserted without a way for new growth to return.

Now the Trust will dig up the area and plant new vegetation.

"This is returning pre-mined land to some of the healthier hardwood forests that have existed in that area before," said Rank. "And in turn, that improvement in the reclamation also improves the drainage, and that helps the water and the streams in the area."

Rank said the site will be a boost for the local tourism industry. In the future, she said, West Virginians in the area won't have to drive for hours to hike and bike and enjoy nature.

Disclosure: West Virginia Highlands Conservancy contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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