The Clinch Coalition was formed in 1998 by citizens concerned about a major timber sale proposed for High Knob. The first act of the organization was to gather over 5000 signatures opposing the proposed logging and presenting it to the Forest Service and our representatives. Although the Bark Camp Timber Sale did proceed on High Knob, our campaign lead to the cut being reduced from the proposed 1400 down to 680 acres, with many loggers refusing to participate in the biding process.
The Big Stony Creek Flood of 2001 brought new urgency to our work as extensive property damage occurred and an elderly man was washed to his death by a flash flood resulting from excessive timbering on High Knob. We responded by proposing the creation of a High Knob National Recreation Area (NRA) which would reduce timbering and promoting tourism.
Then Congressmen Rick Boucher joined us for a hike up Big Stoney Creek and held hearings on the flood. In February of 2003 he set up a committee to study the feasibility of a High Knob National Recreation Area, but due to pressure from the timber industry, the project never came to fruition despite wide spread support from local communities. Support was received from many regional and national organizations including The Wilderness Society, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Virginia Forest Watch, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Earth First!
Also in 2003 we were successful in stopping a proposal to remove decorative surface rock from High Knob. Heavy equipment, including backhoes and bulldozers on adjacent private land, was causing significant damage to habitat and contributing to erosion and the sedimentation of local streams. The legendary band Blue Highway performed three fundraising concerts for us, we organized hikes, rallies and put up billboards in the area to get the word out about the extensive, destructive timbering that was taking place on High Knob.
In 2005 we initiated new programs to better engage the community in environmental issues related to the Knob and the Clinch Bioreserve. We partnered with Virginia Save Our Streams to start a Citizens Stream Monitoring Program on several local waterways. We continue to do trail work: as an organization we were close to 600 hours of trail work during 2015. Trail building and maintenance is an activity that is important to enhancing forest usage as it encourages low impact economic development.
In 2006, we started the High Knob Naturalist Rally, and an annual EARTH Awareness Essay/Art Contest in our local public schools. We are excited to celebrate our 10th anniversary of both these events this year.
Our first Earth Week Film Festival was in 2008, at the NortonCinema. Since then, we have shown films and sponsored other activities in conjunction with the UVA/Wise Student Environmental Club on campus. Films have included Carpa Diem, Edge of Eden, For the Price of a Cup of Coffee, Food Inc., Green Fire, A Forest Return and a number of Appleshop films.
In 2008, we received a $40,000 grant from the Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation to do restoration work on the Chief Benge Scout Trail. This is the primary trail on High Knob and runs from the High Knob Tower 18 miles through the High Knob Lake and Bark Camp Lake Recreation Areas and connecting with the Little Stony Falls National Recreation Trail. Since that time we have continue working on various other trails on the District.
In 2009, when the Stone Mountain Wilderness was established by the Ridge and Valley Act, the Clinch Ranger District gained its first Wilderness Area. With support from The Wilderness Society our director traveled to the Region 8 National Forest Headquarters in Atlanta to promote the Stone Mountain Wilderness Area. Thus with Forest Service’s approval, it became incorporated into Congressman Boucher’s Jefferson Wilderness Bill.
Since our early battles, we have been successful in stopping a proposed 30 mile ATV Trail on High Knob, participated in the revision of the Jefferson Forest Plan, stopped an unnecessary 1200 acre prescribed burn and reduced the size of several timber cuts. We also continue to monitor active timber sales.
Moreover, we have now gained significant support from various community organizations, government bodies and individual citizens. This will help us in moving ahead with our goal of obtaining the protection that is needed for High Knob and other special areas on the Clinch Ranger District that are a part of the Clinch Valley Bioreserve. A newspaper survey showed that our community favors designated protection of High Knob at a ratio of four to one.