Reminiscences -- A Hiking Guide Makes Me Cry
The Judge Said To Use Mules!
Part I of the Review of the New Hiking Guide by Tom Rodd, Co-Chair, WVHC Publications and Outreach Committee
"If something is threatened, and then the drawing you make of it is still crisp and sure and tender, it shows that peopleís affections can be stronger than those forces that might tear the world to pieces."
-- Tony Hiss, The View From Alger's Window, 1999.
I have a romantic, inspirational theme for this (two-part) book review of the new, hot-off-the-presses, Seventh Edition of the Hiking Guide to the Monongahela National Forest, published by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and edited by Allen DeHart and Bruce Sundquist. (At press time, I hadnít had a chance to interview co-editor DeHart, so that will come in part two, in the next issue of the Voice.)
Hereís my theme: like the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy itself, this remarkable Guidebook is a product of the human spirit -- honoring and protecting the creation -- in celebration and in struggle!
Am I being too romantic? I donít think so. I cried several times last week after I left Bruce Sundquistís house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I was part of a "work party" helping put business reply cards in the new Guidebooks, so buyers can send in and get a six-month free trial Conservancy membership. I cried thinking about the touching and inspirational stories that Bruce -- and Sue Broughton, another Conservancy member -- told me about the early days of the Conservancy and the origins of the Guidebook. (Art and Betty Evans, Marc Levine, Jean Rodman, WVHC Adminstrative Assistant Dave Saville, and Gail Gregory were at the work` party, too.)
I may have gotten some of this information wrong, but Iíll give my best recollection. Bruce got into outdoor guidebook writing in the 1960s, with American Youth Hostels. Trip leaders would write trip accounts, and they were collected for others to use -- and these evolved into hiking guides. (Bruce has also been an author of other guidebooks: the Hikerís Guide to the Laurel Highlands Trail; the Allegheny National Forest Hiking Guide; the Hikerís Guide to Western Pennsylvania; the Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia; and Ski Touring Western Pennsylvania.)
Bruce joined the Highlands Conservancy in 1969, and worked on writing the first wilderness proposals for the Cranberry Backcountry and Dolly Sods. Bruce remembered Helen McGuinness, the "Mother of Dolly Sods" -- who worked as a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum, and who convinced the Wilderness Society to push for wilderness status for Otter Creek and Dolly Sods in the Eastern Wilderness Act of 1975.
The Conservancyís Hiking Guide to the Monongahela National Forest evolved out of the recreational trail sections in these wilderness proposals. Like the recent Resource Assessment of the Blackwater Canyon (available from the Conservancy for $9.50), the Mon Forest Hiking Guide was created as a tool -- one could even say a weapon -- in the struggle to protect the land and landscape of West Virginia. (I would say the Guidebook is still such a tool and weapon.)
Many of those who were involved in organizing the Conservancy and leading the efforts to promote wilderness and protect outdoor recreation areas in West Virginia were from out of state -- including a number of Pittsburghers. One of these people is Sue Broughton, who arrived at Bruce Sundquistís house after we had put all of the business reply cards in the new edition of the Guidebook -- we really worked fast! Sue was willing to tell me a couple of stories from those days.
One story was about Judge Robert Maxwell, a federal judge in Elkins -- who coincidentally has been assigned to hear the Conservancyís pending Blackwater Canyon endangered species lawsuit against Allegheny Wood Products -- where our lawyer is Jason Huber. (Go, Jason!).
In 1975, Island Creek Coal owned the mineral rights under the Otter Creek area. Island Creek saw that the Eastern Wilderness Act was coming, but they hadnít done "core drilling," to establish what value their minerals might have. So they made plans to build roads and haul in drill rigs, and to drill down to see what coal was there.
This threatened road-building (not the drilling) could have ruined the areaís chances for wilderness designation. Jim Moorman, who became a leader of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, held a heated "rump session" at a Conservancy Review -- in Jimís room at Blackwater Falls State Park Lodge. People were spilling out into the hall, the room was so packed. "Itís now or never," Moorman said. "Weíve got to sue the coal company." (Have I heard these words other times?) The Board voted to file suit.
At the time, Sue told me, it was a very "far-out," frightening thing for this small group of hikers and climbers to do -- to take on a giant coal company in court.
But they did -- and they won!
Judge Maxwell ordered the coal company not to build roads. He said that if the company wanted to core-drill, they would have to haul in their drill rigs with mules and horses!
So they hauled in the drill rigs inpieces, with teams and wagons and sleds, over existing trails. And when they drilled, thankfully they found that there was no valuable coal.
(Now letís hope that Judge Maxwell is as creative and courageous in our endangered species suit! By the way, some time later, a couple of Conservancy members met a couple of coal company engineers at a local tavern. The engineers admitted that the coal company had saved tens of thousands of dollars, by using mules and horses!)
There are plenty of stories like this, for each of the Conservancyís campaigns -- over thirty years -- to protect West Virginiaís natural environment. I get a little teary, thinking of those people at Blackwater Falls Lodge, daring to challenge the coal industry, and fighting for something more important than profits.
For over twenty of those years, the Mon Forest Guidebook has been a unique weapon in that struggle, and a great tool for experiencing the Mountain State, in a human way, at a human pace. Order your copy now! And in the next issue of the Voice, Iíll continue this review, with a closer look at the book itself -- and maybe another story.