“It was like an annual bear gathering up there,” Ed Wiley told me, referring to Coal River Mountain’s Brushy Fork area, at the time of this interview. That part of the mountain is now home to the largest earthen dam in the Western Hemisphere– filled with 7 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry.
The area Ed speaks of here was not only a stretch of incredibly biodiverse mixed mesophytic forest, but also part of the Coal River Valley’s cultural memory, a well-known hunting and adventure ground. Prior to the dam’s construction in 1995 old, dense, hardwoods and thickets of laurels covered Brushy Fork, surrounding a tributary– now lost– that fed in to the Little Marsh Fork.
Wiley begins by telling us about the Amble Rock, where each July one could watch black bears congregate. He then discusses the loss of animal and plant habitat on the mountain, connecting the struggle to end MTR in Appalachia with wider ecological threats, including mass die-offs of honeybee populations.