The natural beauty of Rappahannock County, and its abundance of landowners dedicated to private land conservation, are among what attracts many new residents and compels so many that are from here to stay. It is why tourists from around the world talk about hiking the iconic mountains of Rappahannock and Shenandoah National Park and looking down at our lush farmland. And it is why Nathan Jenkins decided to come home in 2009 and lead the Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance (RCCA).
“When I went to law school, it was always my plan to come home and work to ensure that our children benefit from the slow growth that takes these wondrous resources into consideration,” Jenkins said. “I remember my granddad did not think much of the park for taking his land, but now I imagine all the homes that would line up across our peaks if the government had not taken action. That is why I studied law and it is why I came to work for RCCA – to help private individuals continue the conservation work started when the park was formed.”
Now, Jenkins is moving on to a new opportunity to advance the lives of mountain dwellers. He has taken a job with Appalachian Voices – a multi-state organization that exists to better the welfare of those living in Appalachia’s coal mining regions.
In southwestern Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, coal companies are blasting the peaks off of mountains to access thin seams of coal that lie deep below the ridge tops. This type of mining produces far fewer jobs than underground coal mining, Jenkins pointed out, and it has a long history of sullying drinking water and breaking apart communities.
“It is truly extreme what they are doing. You have to see it. If a coal company wanted to blow off our ridge tops, we wouldn’t stand for it. Imagine Old Rag, but with a completely level top and about 500 feet shorter. It would simply never happen. Unfortunately, in many parts of Appalachia, it is a daily practice,” Jenkins said.
Appalachian Voices notes that the loss of mountaintops and headwater streams is the most visible effect of this type of mining, but people many miles away are stuck with deep rust-colored water, heavily laden with toxic materials, flowing through their homes and into their bodies.
“It is not only an environmental disaster – it is – but there are also people, just like my family and many others here in Rappahannock who live in the hills and don’t want much from governments or corporations. Unfortunately, in Appalachia, corporations and the government are betraying that quiet trust,” Jenkins said. “A lot of folks down there have had enough and it is time for us up here to start listening. After all, if there were coal in our hills, we’d be in the same situation.”
To learn more about Appalachian Voices, which has offices in Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., Nashville and Boone, N.C, visit appvoices.org.