A Call for Thru-Hikers to Learn About the Mountain Valley Pipeline
There are many times out here when despite the incalculable variables and odds, you end up exactly where you are meant to be with the people you are meant to be with. Like the day I walked through a trailhead parking lot at the exact moment folks participating in Walk for Appalachia’s Future were gathering to protest the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline Fight Meets the Appalachian Trail
The Trek recently published an update on the status of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The 42-inch diameter pipeline carrying natural gas is set to run parallel to and cross the Appalachian Trail near the “Triple Crown” area of Virginia. The pipeline carries with it years of legal battles and standoffs between Appalachians who have given everything to protect the health of the land, water, and people. It’s not only the construction of the pipeline that’s the issue. Although, much can be said about the destructive impacts clear-cutting and road building have on soils and water quality. Once natural gas is flowing through a pipe precariously positioned atop some of the most highly erodible landscapes in the world, a time bomb of environmental contaminant disaster begins to tick.
Advocates at the trailhead spoke of the “highly secretive” $19.5 million deal between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Mountain Valley Pipeline. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the conservation stewardship agreement includes the largest monetary contribution package in the history of the conservancy. The money from Mountain Valley is intended to enhance the Appalachian Trail Hiker experience, protect the views from the trail and conserve high-priority tracts of land.
“They didn’t involve any of us in the deal.” An organizer proudly wearing an Appalachians Against Pipelines shirt explained. By “us,” the organizer meant the diverse coalition of advocates who have been fighting the pipeline for years. Some are scientists and activists by trade. Others would never call themselves environmentalists yet they fight for those who have been the victims of environmental injustice. Some fight the pipeline in the courtroom while others lay their bodies in front of bulldozers. Four years ago, some climbed into the trees and stayed there for 932 days until the last tree fell and the last Yellow Finch Tree Sitter was arrested. Indigenous advocates risk their lives and safety on stolen ancestral lands. Black Appalachians stand up for the communities subjected to contaminated water and abandonment by lawmakers who don’t represent them. Working-class Appalachians show up to protest a broken system of extraction and disinvestment of the land and people. Some hold multiple of these identities, and all stand to benefit from fighting side by side.
The ATC refuses to release the full conditions of the agreement to local stakeholders. Andrew Downs, senior regional director, did reveal a $1 million acquisition of land near McAfee Knob. Downs told The Trek the funds from Mountain Valley went to “protect over 1000 acres in the immediate viewshed of McAfee Knob.”
$19.5 million may be enough to protect the view from McAfee Knob for the hikers and tourists. It may be enough to carefully hide the scar across the land from those of us coming from far and wide to recreate in the Appalachian Mountains. But what is enough to protect those who live in the mountain valleys, drink from the mountain spring, breathe the mountain air? What is enough to protect us all; to refuse dollars in the name of climate change and climate justice. Who decides the dollar amount and who decides where it goes?
A call to act and learn together
I felt I was meant to be at this trailhead at the time the Walk for Appalachia’s Future event was occurring because I had been there before. Not at this exact demonstration, but in community with water and land protectors. I’ve stood with them on top of mountains in West Virginia to witness not only the brutal impacts of the pipeline but the devastation of mountaintop removal. It was with them that I learned how sacred these mountains are… these ancient mountains that filter clean water and breathe out fresh air. And it’s with you, my Appalachian Trail community, that I’ve learned how intimate our relationships with mountains are. What a privilege it is to drink from the source of a mountain spring before the water dances through the perfect network of creeks and rivers into the valleys below.
You don’t need to be a professional environmental advocate to feel empowered to learn more and support the movement to protect the future of these mountains. In fact, long gone is the time when natural resource management is decided by professionals behind closed doors and excludes the true experts that live by and depend on “the resource.” For those of you who recreate on the AT from elsewhere, now is the time to listen, learn, and take lead from the boots on the ground who have been fighting this fight for almost a decade. Read up on Appalachians Against Pipelines, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights, Appalachian Youth Climate Coalition, 7 Directions of Service. If you have the means, contribute your dollars to this work.
On my 24th birthday, I stood on McAfee Knob and looked over the waves of ridgelines below. I felt the age and expanse of the Appalachian Mountains. I felt small and insignificant in the history of this land. But I felt the significance of the present— this critical moment that decides our future. I felt the serenity of the view and the heartbreak of the pipeline set to cross it. I felt why I’m on the trail: to be challenged, to grow, to heal, and to be reminded why I gotta get back to work when I’m home.
Yours in the fight,
Callia “Cricket” Téllez
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