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Outdoor classroom, park on site of Lee coal tipple to open Thursday

April 22nd, 2014 11:48 pm by Wes Bunch

Outdoor classroom, park on site of Lee coal tipple to open Thursday

PENNINGTON GAP — A new outdoor classroom and community park in Lee County constructed on the site of a former coal transfer station will officially open to the public Thursday morning.

The Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Keep Southwest Virginia Beautiful will hold a ceremony and tour beginning at 10 a.m. to mark the opening.

The park is located at the former Rand Osborne Coal Tipple Yard, which is situated along Straight Creek in the Stone Creek community between St. Charles and Pennington Gap. The site is one of approximately 70 abandoned coal tipple stations in Southwest Virginia where trucks once delivered coal for train pickup.

Carol Doss, executive director of the Roundtable and Keep Southwest Virginia Beautiful, said the site is designed to improve the quality of life for local residents and help protect the environment.

"There are many benefits to a project like this," Doss said. "The site was an eyesore in the community and was not usable in the condition it was in, so we were able to make it into something useful for the community. We've made it look better and created a useful space that is good for a park so people can come walk the trail and enjoy being outside. We'll also be able to use the classroom so children can come and study and be outdoors, so it will be a learning tool."

Doss said the project began nearly four years ago when the Roundtable received funding from USFWS to purchase the former coal loading site and transfer ownership to Lee County.

Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), along with Daniel Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, supervised the land acquisition and arranged for reclamation, which included removing coal loading structures, an old office building and debris, Doss said. The site was also capped with two feet of soil, which was graded and seeded.

A project to stabilize the stream bank to prevent further erosion from the site was coordinated by USFWS. Virginia DMME estimates the stabilization will keep about two tons of sediment a year out of Straight Creek, Doss said. A wetlands with native plants was also built by USFWS.

"By stabilizing the stream bank we are really reducing a lot of the pollution that is caused by soil erosion," Doss said.

Doss said a grant from Keep American Beautiful and Lowe's helped complete the site's transformation into an outdoor classroom and park by creating a walking trail and installing community- made decorative stepping stones. The site also received split rail fencing, recycled benches and a parking lot.

The classroom area features eight learning stations complete with educational signage. A total of 150 trees and 150 live tree stakes were also planted.

Doss said the plans for the site were first formed 11 years ago with the cooperation of the Powell River Partnership, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, state and federal agencies and others, including the Daniel Boone Soil and Water Conservation District.

The initial funding for the classroom was provided by USFWS Virginia Ecological Services through a Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration settlement aimed at restoring areas impacted by a 1996 coal slurry spill on a tributary of the Powell River. The Roundtable eventually raised a total of $216,125 to complete the project.

"The settlement fund really got the ball rolling as far as obtaining the land and reclaiming it," Doss said. "We still needed more money to finish it, and we were able to get more funding from several additional sources so we could make it into the park and classroom."

The other funding contributors included Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, LG&E KU Plant for the Planet, Appalachian Coal Country Team Reforestation Initiative, TVA and Lone Mountain Processing. Multiple other businesses and organizations provided in-kind donations for the project.

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