What's Left After the Coal Mines

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A picture I shot of a large culm pile near Grassy Island Creek, Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Bulldozer working to level the culm piles, Grassy Island Creek, Northeastern Pennsylvania

An opening to a mine shaft, probably to let noxious fumes out from the underground mines. Even though the mines have been closed since the 1950s, there are still coal fires below ground.

Rehabilitating the area. Using fluvial geomorphology, the contractors created a vortex weir to create riffles and runs

Planting nitrogen-fixing trees to stabilize the new riparian area

The first day after the stream got rerouted. You are starting to see how the riffles, pools, and runs are forming.

This post is dedicated to both the inquiries I have received from the recent Grist article and to filmmaker, Jeff Gibbs. Jeff and I will be traveling back to the place where I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania to document what remains of an area that was founded on the prospects of coal.

Northeastern Pennsylvania was largely founded on coal, but the degradation of the landscape is really all that's left in most areas. The waste product of coal is called "culm." Above are images of a project I helped work on 6 years or so ago. The team appointed me to create the planting plan for the Grassy Island Creek reclamation site. Rainfall began undercutting the culm piles and there was a significant amount of acid mine drainage (AMD) flowing into a Class A trout fishery.

We brought contractors in to use fluvial geomorphology and work with the "natural" anatomy of the stream to redirect it into the river. We then leveled out the land, fertilized it, and chose appropriate hardy riparian tree species to plant along the streams. The labor was rather intense. Soil doesn't exist in these areas and all of the time you had to fight shoveling coal. Japanese knotweed was also prevalent in the area and we had to do our best to remove most of that invasive plant species before tree planting could begin.

That's it for now, but we'll start highlighting some of my past research, work, and landscape management consultation programs on this blog. It'll be a nice way to see a bit of the history behind something I hold very close to my heart...

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