The Appalachian Trail: A path from our past into our future  

Commentary
By Maury Johnson
ATC MEMBER – Greenville, WV

For the past three years people in WV and VA have been dealing with various natural gas pipeline project proposals. All of these projects have their pros and cons, depending on who you talk to.

It is the job of FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), the National Parks Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and a handful of other federal and state agencies to make sure that these projects do not cause more harm than they need to – though all of these projects will harm the environment to some extent.

Unfortunately it appears that these agencies are not doing their jobs. Severely deficient Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) were released by the FERC for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this past fall.

I live in Monroe County, a close-knit, agricultural community known for its farms and rural life style. It was deemed one of America’s 100 Best Places to Raise Children by the America’s Promise Initiative a few years ago. It has been recognized as one of the top 10 Places to raise a family by Mother Earth Magazine. Rand McNally recognized a drive across Monroe County as one of its Top 25 most scenic “Four Hour Drives in America.”

What many people do not know is that the APPALACHIAN NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL (ANST) – known to most of us as the Appalachian Trail – also runs approximately 10 miles along the border of WV and VA in Monroe County along the iconic Peters Mountain.  (In response to a letter I wrote this spring to WV Legislators about potential impacts of the MVP to Peters Mountain, I was told by a Charleston area legislator that “The Appalachian Trail was only located in Jefferson County.”  This demonstrates the misinformation too many people have about the issue.)

I was fortunate as a teenager to get to help some of the very people who helped to build the Appalachian Trail in our area.  These good folks continued to work to maintain the Trail each spring after winter’s snows, or any time storms downed trees or made walking the trail difficult or dangerous.

It was on one of these outings when I first heard that the ATC would make a 22-mile detour from Pearisburg, Virginia, to ascend Peters Mountain into Monroe County – just so hikers could experience the majestic view across Monroe, Summers, Greenbrier, Mercer and Raleigh Counties of WV.  The ATC would then descend Peters Mountain after about 10 miles to continue towards Roanoke VA.  The good people who helped to build this extraordinary trail were not done. They later helped construct the Allegheny Trail, continuing along the summit of Peters Mountain toward the iconic Hanging Rock near Gap Mills and Waiteville in WV.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline promises to destroy the work of these great men, and many men and women since that time. It would clear-cut a 125-foot pipeline highway across West Virginia ridges visible from Peters Mountain in Monroe County to Keeney Knob, approximately 40 miles away in Summers County. For thousands of local, national, and international hikers who travel the AT or visit Hanging Rock each year, their view of “Almost Heaven” would be forever scarred. Even the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which has worked with many pipeline and power line projects, says the MVP route “could not be worse.”

It would, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy  impact 19 major vistas and be visible from the AT for over 100 miles. It would have impacts that are unprecedented to the Trail.

In a recent article, Andrew Downs, Regional Director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Roanoke, VA, wrote:  “From the outset, when the company laid out plans to transport natural gas for more than 300 miles through Virginia and West Virginia, the problems with the routing were apparent and grievous because of inaccurate and incomplete information. What the company has since added to their plans is downright disrespectful to the legally-required public engagement and review process.”  He further stated, “The Appalachian Trail Conservancy strongly objects to MVP’s proposed route. The ATC’s mission is to ensure the Appalachian Trail and the scenic landscape that surrounds it is preserved and protected for generations to come.

Downs continues, “The ATC finds that MVP’s proposed routing could not be worse. The route snakes through the Appalachians requiring thousands of acres of forest to be cleared and creating gashes the width of a 12-lane highway. The resulting eyesores would be devastating to the trail and surrounding landscape, and would be seen from as far as 20 miles away.”

Along with many others, I have been working to save the Appalachian Trail from this unprecedented assault.  I recently participated in several hikes and ended up sleeping on top of Peters Mountain for the first time in 42 years. Standing alone the next morning at daybreak on top of Peters Mountain while everyone else was asleep was a spiritual moment.  I had a life time of flashbacks, and tears flowed as I thought about the future that MVP wants to carve out of this beautiful place and the loss it would be for all of us.

Many great people in the past created and maintain a National Treasure that has lead us from the past to the present and their vision should be a guide into the future.  Great people continue to build and maintain such treasures across this country.  One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Jefferson National Forest would have to amend the Forest management plan to allow for “acceptable impacts” to water quality, visual impacts and the removal of protected old growth forest as well as to allow the MVP to cross Inventoried Roadless areas and run along Wilderness areas.  Building the pipeline would require amendments to the plan and would set a precedent for all trail and federally protected National Forest and Wilderness areas nationwide.  I hope for a future that values our environment, a future where places like the Appalachian Trail are sacred.

In a few days the FERC could issues a Final EIS for the MVP. I am requesting that FERC, the USFS and all the others Federal and State Agencies charged with protecting the AT and the larger environment “pull up their big boy pants” and do their job.

I also ask more people to get off the sidelines and help protect the Appalachian Trail and other special areas.  For more information about the MVP and the harmful effects to the Appalachian Trail, visit appalachiantrail.org/MVP.

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