Friday, January 23, 2015

Recovery From Exploitation

Stuarts Knob is a minor summit even in the relatively low-profile hills around it. The only reason I even noticed it is that it's obvious from the lakeside below the cabin where my wife and I stayed in Fairy Stone State Park this month.

It's an attractive enough little mountain, but at less than 1400 feet above sea level it's really just an Appalachian foothill to the much higher summits just a few miles to the west. But I got out the park trail map and noted that there were a couple of trails that take you almost to the top and decided to hike up there and see what it was like.

What I found was a series of well maintained trails that were dotted with historical markers and discovered that the area had been ecologically raped and exploited in the recent past. Go back less than 100 years and you'd hardly have recognized the profile of this little mountaintop. It underwent a long period (in human terms) of exploitation that denuded it of trees and forest cover and then was heavily mined for the rich iron deposits that lay actually on its flanks and then below its surface. By the late 1800s the forests were utterly gone, and by 1920 the iron deposits had played out. Even the town that once lay at its foot vanished once the capitalists and industrialists had had their way with the place.

By the 1930s the land had been allowed to lay as the humans had left it. Enter the Civilian Conservation Corps who chose it as a spot to begin the effort at rehabilitation and the site of a new state park of Virginia. Erosion was mitigated, mines were sealed up, trails were laid down, trees were encouraged to regenerate.

Today, walking the slopes of this hill you would be hard pressed to understand the extent of the destruction that had once laid waste to its environs. Beneath the canopy of a vast hardwood forest you can find places where colliers had once felled and carbonized the trees to make charcoal. One can spot the massive grooves where the earth was moved in vast amounts in the practice of surface mining to get at the iron almost at the top of the ground. And there are sealed mine entrances to mark the places where men and machines once combined to shear out the guts of the little mountain.

Mother Nature can recover if she is allowed to heal. But only if.

Stuarts Knob as it appeared from the lakeside below our cabin.

This was the location of a collier site. Where men would take the trees they'd felled and slowly bake them, transforming the wood into charcoal which would be sold for 5 cents per bushel.
The mountain was covered in these deep "grooves", the result of early surface mining where the readily available iron ore was taken from the hill. When this played out the traditional shaft mining began.

A GoPro video I made at the summit of Stuarts Knob.

The entrance to one of the mine shafts, now sealed.

Sun rising over the summit.

The nice system of trails. Thanks, Civilian Conservation Corps!

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