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November 4, 2010

Antrim Caskey’s “Dragline”: Tree-planting on Kayford Mountain

“At 5:11 pm on March 18, 2009, a small blast detonates on Kayford Mountain, where Patriot Coal has a massive mountaintop removal site in southern West Virginia. This type of coal mining has destroyed one million square miles of the most diverse forest on the planet.”

Antrim Caskey is a photographer living in West Virginia, in a small town where there is no cellphone reception, where the only place to get her hair done — and get most anything — is the monstrous Wal-Mart which strangled local businesses like in so many other communities across the country. For the past several years, she has been documenting the struggle against mountaintop removal. As in decades past, coal companies continue to ravage the land in search of ever scarcer resources, and neighbor is pitted against neighbor in the uneasy dichotomy of jobs vs. health and economy vs. environment.

BagNews will follow Antrim’s work as it develops; from civil disobedience to court battles to a deeper understanding of this beautiful, tragic land, still one of the poorest states. Last week she joined about fifty activists led by Mountain Justice for a weekend on Kayford Mountain, where Larry Gibson and his family owned the land for two hundred years. Only a finger of fifty acres remains to them along a ridge top, an island surrounded by mining as seen above last year. For generations, West Virginians signed away the mineral rights underneath their properties for a pittance, without knowing what they were getting into.

“October 24, 2010: Driving to Kayford Mountain.” Antrim reports that this view is looking towards “Hell’s Gate” which is a “simple metal gate on the mountain that separates Larry Gibson’s property from the active mountaintop removal site. Once you pass Hell’s Gate it is like you are transported to an entirely different planet. Or, as the name would suggest, Hell on Earth,” as described by  The Backwoods Drifter.

“Kayford Mountain, October 24, 2010. Activists gathered on Larry Gibson’s mountain and carried out a peaceful protest on the reclaimed site planting 40 hemlock trees. No arrests were made, as the coal company may have decided to forgo confrontation and charges of trespassing in this case.”

Larry’s cousin Dale with his dog. The Gibson family maintains holiday cottages on their property.

The protesters camped and brought musical instruments. Union coal miners from Colombia came to show their support. But the coal companies continue to make enormous profits.

–Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by ANTRIM CASKRY / APPALACHIA WATCH

Please see the other posts in the Mountaintop Mining Watch series.

About the Photographer

Antrim Caskey

Antrim Caskey is a photojournalist based in the Coal River Valley, W.Va., and specializes in reporting on the human and environmental costs of mountaintop-removal coal mining. She has been arrested several times in the course of her reporting and been sued by Massey Energy. She founded Appalachia Watch, an advocacy journalism project, and self-published "Dragline," an award-winning photo exposé on mountaintop removal. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Smithsonian magazine, the New York Times, and was featured in the documentary The Last Mountain. See more of Antrim's work for BagNews here.

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