A voice for the mountains

mountain top removed

Courtesy Mark Schmerling


By Mark Schmerling

When Larry Gibson was growing up on Kayford Mountain, its upper reaches supported a vibrant community surrounded by forested ridges. Today, a fifty-acre oasis is all that remains of the 500 West Virginia-acres held by his family since the late 1700s. His remaining green patch is now surrounded by 360 degrees of blasted rock, valley fills, and the incessant sound of destruction.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) has destroyed over 800 square miles of central Appalachia, an area equal to a quarter-mile-wide path from New York to San Francisco. Gibson himself has covered even more ground, speaking in every region of the U.S. about this senseless destruction of mountains, forests, streams, habitat, and culture. For over 20 years, Gibson has fought against the coal industry, and the politicians influenced by that industry, he has spoken to the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainability, to members of major environmental groups, to university students, and to the many visitors to his Kayford Mountain home, including Robert Kennedy Jr., country singer Kathy Mattea, and film crews from CNN and the BBC.

For his efforts, Larry as been shot at, run off the road in his truck, and endured more than a hundred acts of vandalism of his property.

Gibson’s isn’t the only voice against MTR, but his activism has inspired countless others to become involved. “It’s not about me, and it’s not just about Kayford Mountain,” he says, and then he poses the following question to his audiences, “What do you hold so dear that you can’t put a price on it?” For Gibson, it is wild mountains, human dignity, and closeness to the land, the latter a rare commodity for the majority of Americans.

Mark Schmerling serves as vice-chair of the Southeastern Group.


Published April 2008