Preserving by planting
One of the major challenges in the Appalachian region is dealing with the aftermath of mining and mountaintop removal.
For the past several years, Radford University faculty and students have been working to reclaim several areas within the region by planting trees. On March 7-8, Richard Roth, chair and professor of Geospatial Science; Matt Close, assistant professor of Biology; and Laura Vernon, assistant professor of English, accompanied 13 students on an alternative spring break trip to eastern Kentucky. There, they worked closely with Green Forests Work (GFW), a nonprofit organization, and by the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), a federal program of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation.
The students were split into groups and together planted about 500 trees, including dogwoods, red oaks, white oaks, hickories, Virginia pines and American chestnuts.
While Roth and Close have regularly participated in these alternative spring breaks, this was a first for Vernon, who called the trip a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
"It was hard work, but worth it," she said. "I was impressed with our group of students. They worked hard, enjoyed doing something worthwhile and learned a lot about coal mining, stripped mountaintops and reforestation. Most of all, they realized how difficult it is to balance economic and environmental interests and how important it is for stakeholders to work together."
Radford University has left an impression on the area, as several sites around the Appalachian region have seen the planting of thousands of new trees over the last few years.
"Unlike most years, we had great weather for the planting," Roth said. "It was a great trip. I am always impressed by the students, and this year was no exception – cooperative, friendly, interested, willing to work, which makes the trip worthwhile."
The Radford University Scholar Citizen Initiative (SCI) was instrumental in supporting the trip and has been a partner throughout the years of this program.