Appalachian Conservation Corps Joins the Effort to Restore Minelands

Each year Monongahela National Forest works with non-profit partner Green Forests Work, and a host of other partners, on projects to restore a formerly mined area of the Forest on the border of Randolph and Pocahontas counties called the Mower Tract. This year the Appalachian Conservation Corps was added as our newest partner.

Appalachian Conservation Corps is a non-profit, AmeriCorps-affiliated organization that works on public lands throughout the greater Shenandoah Valley region. Members are 18-25 years old and work in crews. Each crew is tasked with conservation projects that they complete while camping onsite up to ten days at a time, known as a hitch. The Appalachian Conservation Corps provides members with a hands-on learning experience suitable for a wide range of skill levels, which attracts participants from diverse backgrounds and varied career paths.

In June 2020 a six-person crew, including Anthony Stanzi, Paul Turowicz, Skylar Ulry, Emerson Presar, Shane Herbert, and Mikayla Schuyler, planted 4,330 wetland shrubs, and spread 160 pounds of native grass and pollinator seed over 200 acres during one hitch on the Mower Tract. The wetland plants will help slow and retain precipitation, and the native seed was sown on hillsides to help with erosion control and create pollinator habitat.

2020 ACC crew poses for a photo on a mountain vista. They are all  wearing protective cloth masks.

ACC crew from left: Shane Herbert, Antony Stanzi, Mikayla Schuyler, Skylar Ulry, and Paul Turowicz Emerson Presar. Green Forests Work photo by Briana Snyder, used by permission.

The Mower Tract is on the Greenbrier Ranger District of Monongahela National Forest, atop Cheat Mountain near Cheat Summit Fort. About 2,000 acres were surfaced mined for coal, and the area also includes a deep mine. The mined lands were originally reclaimed with Norway spruce and red pine, but these trees are non-native and lack the ecological benefits of the red spruce-northern hardwood forests originally here prior to mining and logging. The compacted soil also created adverse impacts, including stunted vegetation and increased erosion.

Green Forests Work and USDA Forest Service staff discussed the intricacies of restoration with the Appalachian Conservation Corps crew when they first arrived so they would understand how their work would benefit the project. Happy to participate, the crew members stayed upbeat and hard at work throughout their hitch, despite the many rainy days and stormy nights they experienced, which is not unusual weather on the high-elevation Mower Tract. They nicknamed the work site “Rainy Mountain” and said that it was an experience they will never forget.

Green Forests Work is a non-profit organization with a mission to re-establish healthy and productive forests on formerly mined lands in Appalachia. The organization has partnered with the USDA Forest Service for the past 10 years. Together, and with many other partners, the organizations have restored more than 950 acres of mineland on the Mower Tract.

The USDA Forest Service and Green Forests Work are expanding this partnership with Appalachian Conservation Corps, and plan to continue to spread the word among future conservation leaders that they really can make a difference, with a little bit of hard work, resilience, and dedication. An Appalachian Conservation Corps chainsaw crew is working this fall to integrate the mineland restoration work with spruce restoration and early successional habitat management. Will we see you working on “Rainy Mountain” next year?

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