Please welcome guest author Marcus B. Gray. Gray is a wildlife biologist by training. He now serves as the Executive Director of the New River-Highlands Resource Conservation & Development Council in Southwest Virginia. His 4th Great Grandfather, James Gray, settled on productive farms in Russell County, Virginia after marrying Elizabeth Doran in old Augusta County, Virginia in 1787.
Over the years, many authors have written about how the rugged landscape of Appalachia has shaped the local people—their physical features, music, language, customs and more. It is well documented, even if controversial. The impact Appalachian people have had on America as a whole from the time of European settlement is also a popular topic.
If you doubt the musical tradition remains strong today, look no farther than the recent success of Dolly Parton’s albums at Cracker Barrel stores or Anna Kendrick’s “Cups,” a 2013 hit cover of the Carter Family song, “When I’m Gone” (1931).
The link between Appalachian people and the land they call home is equally as strong and has been for centuries. Few other areas of the United States have a local population with as intimate an ecological knowledge and sense of place. However, just like the abandoned boomtowns, overgrown homesteads and diluting accents, the environment of the mountains is under threat of degradation and thus being lost to time.
There are numerous groups and entities working to preserve the culture of the region, boost tourism, improve economic conditions and conserve natural resources. Opportunities exist for partnerships, especially those unexplored for reasons such as politics or seemingly disparate mission statements. The culture fostered by the land cannot continue without the land. Skills passed down through the generations that helped folks forge a living in remote hollers are baseless if not rooted in a region with an intact rural character. Organizations must collaborate to enhance the positive influence natural resources have on communities.
The New River-Highlands Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D) is an organization that works toward a vision of a prosperous, modern, rural community living in harmony with the environment. Think of that vision like living off the grid on a homestead, but with high-speed internet. There’s no reason you can’t preserve traditional skills AND have indoor plumbing. Incorporating new technologies while preserving traditions is how our ancestors operated.
There just isn’t a need to “sell the homeplace and move to town” to make a living. A wholesale migration to an urban lifestyle is what created the rampant Nature Deficit Disorder we see across the country. Providing training to new farmers is the first step in maintaining open space while offering quality agricultural products to consumers. Southwest Virginia, like other parts of Appalachia, is poised to shift into a new economy. There are ways to promote economic growth and diversification while conserving the natural resources of working landscapes. As coal and tobacco-related jobs decline in the portion of Southwest Virginia that we serve, we must begin to think about different employment options in the future.
Some ideas beyond tourism include sound forest management, sustainable agriculture and local artisan products. New farm income in the form of market generation, area-adapted crops and production improvements are underway. It’s time to give back to the land that has given us so much.
As a true equal opportunity provider the RC&D has projects that cater to people interested in livestock, water quality, forest fire prevention, locally grown food, trails and alternative energy! Below are a few of our on-going projects:
Stream Bank Stabilization
The New River Stream Bank Restoration project will address stream bank and channel erosion in the New River and Holston River Watershed. This is accomplished with a series of demonstrations that will focus on stream bank stabilization and channel stabilization as a means to reduce sediment pollutants in streams. The project will focus on new best management practices, such as stream barbs or deflectors, stream bank toe protection, J hooks, and vegetative controls such as cedar tree revetments, bio logs, sloping, shaping and establishment of vegetation. Conventional practices will be used where the other alternatives may not work.
Partners: Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Conservation & Recreation, MapTech
Action: Implement stream bank stabilization projects on 10 sites.
School Walking Trail
The Council is assisting the Carroll County School System with the development of the final grant application for a walking trail at the Hillsville Elementary School. Funded by a $97,000 grant from Department of Conservation & Recreation Trails Grant, this project will establish approximately 3 miles of trails with about ¾ mile being handicap accessible.
Partners: Department of Conservation & Recreation, Carroll County Schools
Action: Assist Carroll County School System with the final grant submission.
Total Maximum Daily Load Initiative
The Upper Middle Fork Holston River TMDL Plan Implementation project addresses bacteria pollution from direct livestock access and runoff from pasture land; bacteria from straight pipes, failing septic systems and pet waste. Water quality is impacted by bacteria from agricultural, human and pet waste and requires a reduction of all direct livestock access and straight pipes to meet the water quality standards.
This project targets the upper reaches of the watershed Virginia Stream O03R-01 above the Atkins sampling station for agriculture practices and address human and pet waste in Virginia Stream O03R-01 and Virginia Stream O03R-02 the entire watershed above the Town of Marion. Monitoring will be conducted to track the effectiveness of the best management practices on pollutants reduction, by monitoring pre- and post installation of best management practices. The selected watersheds will be targeted with an outreach and education program including one on one contact with landowners to recruit participants. The project partners include Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District, Big Walker Soil & Water Conservation District, Virginia Health Department, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Mt. Rodgers Regional Planning District and the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project.
Partners: Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District, Department of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Action: Implement project with Evergreen Soil & Water Conservation District.
Farmers Market Assistance
The Council works with the Wytheville Farmers Market Advisory Committee to secure funding to operate the Wytheville Farmers Market and serve as the fiscal agent for the Wytheville Farmers Market.
Partners: Wytheville Farmers Market Committee, City of Wytheville, Wythe County, Wythe-Bland Community Foundation
The RC&D Council will assist the Rocky Gap Greenway Committee with the development of Virginia Department of Forestry Urban Community Forestry Grant proposal to assist with the development of the greenway to include tree identification signage and other urban forestry practices.
Partners: Virginia Department of Forestry; Rocky Gap Greenway Committee; Bland County; Wythe/Bland Foundation; Virginia Cooperation Extension Service; Big Walker Soil and Water Conservation District; Landowners