Friday, October 30, 2009

The Highest Race in West Virginia Went Off With a Bang!

As we awoke that Saturday morning, the weather wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for. There were a few clouds and a bit of mist, but that didn’t keep our runners inside! When the 5K race was nearing its starting time, we rang the five-minute warning bell and the racers began to descend upon the starting line. What started out as just an idea was finally becoming reality. We had 14 runners for our very first 5K race. The 3.1-mile race looped around the Mountain Institute’s property, starting in the parking lot, following the driveway towards the Earth Shelter. Once there, the runners ran off into the fields and back around for a dramatic finish on our high planes. All of our runners did extremely well, especially considering the hilly course and the weather conditions. I would like to congratulate Robbie Kimmich for finishing first place overall, with a course record time of 19:31. The first place in the female division was Sara Litzau, with a course record time of 25:31.

After all of our 5K racers finished we got ready for our next race, the Half Marathon. We had six participants at the starting line, including our own Adam Sewell who had just finished running in the 5K! He decided to run in both races. This option will be given out next year as our “King/Queen of the Mountain Race”.

As we sounded the horn, the racers headed off into the clouds towards Spruce Knob Lake. As the runners raced their way towards the lake, the clouds lifted just enough to see some of the beautiful fall foliage. As they made their return journey back to the high planes, we saw in the distance our first place finisher Jack Marmorstein. He finished with a course record of 1 hour 32 minutes. The first place female finisher was Sophie Roblin, with a course record of 1 hour 52 minutes. The King of the Mountain, Adam Sewell’s overall time with both the 5K and half marathon was 2 hours 9 minutes and 20 seconds.

For a few participants, this was their first race and first visit to the Mountain Institute. Among these new faces were some old familiar friends. We shared stories and created new memories. The race weekend was definitely one to remember and also one to look forward to for next year. I know years from now we’re going to look back on this weekend with fond memories and remember the time when we only had a few runners on the starting line. Our goal is to double our participants each year. We hope that all of you can help us with that!

We would like to congratulate all of the runners who came to the First Annual “Run for the Hills”! The race turned up more participants than we expected and could have hoped for! We especially want to thank our volunteers for all of their hard work! We look forward to seeing all of you next year!

-by Katrina Weyland,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Waning Days of the Fall 2009 Season

Last Friday marked the end of Fall 2009 for our seasonal staff here at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center. Since September 1, we have served over 1,000 people with our programs and facilities. So far this fall we have run 22 programs with public and private schools and provided programs and facilities for a wide variety of adult groups and organizations. We’ve got three more weeks for our residential staff to run programs and hope that the good weather can last just a bit longer.

Our school course season has gradually been extending on both ends, beginning earlier in the spring and wrapping up later in the fall, sandwiched on either end by severe winter weather. Last year, during this very week, we were chaining up the vans and skiing due to a 10 inch snow storm. This year, daytime highs are reaching the 50’s and 60’s and night time lows are in the 30’s.

We want to praise and thank all of our staff members for working so hard to provide safe, educational, and enjoyable programs to all of our schools and adult participants.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A New Use for the Monongahela National Forest

Gas Development Pending for Spruce Knob and the High Allegheny

In July 2009, the Monongahela National Forest released a map of candidate drilling areas for natural gas exploration. The mineral rights of these areas are being sought after by members of the gas industry and were scheduled for the public auction block in mid-September. The auction has now been rescheduled for December or early in the Spring of 2010.

These candidate drilling areas occupy thousands of acres in the northern Monongahela National Forest, from the border of Dolly Sods in the north to a few miles south of Spruce Knob. The proposed areas border The Mountain Institute on three sides and provide the headwaters of many vast and vital watersheds. Within the proposed areas are the headwaters of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the headwaters of the Cheat River, which flows into the Monongahela and eventually the Ohio River. Other sensitive features of this area are the headwaters of Big Run, Upper Seneca Creek, and Lower Seneca Creek. These are three of the four remaining intact watersheds for reproductive brook trout populations in West Virginia.

The mineral rights of these areas have been available for some time, but not desired for drilling operations of the past. For many years in West Virginia, companies having been extracting natural gas from the Oriskany Sandstone formation. These rigs drill deep into earth to tap into gas pools within the formation. The new development source of natural gas is one that has, until recent years, been economically unattainable. It is found up to a mile and a half below the earth’s surface, sealed in the cracks and crevices of Marcellus Shale. Its extraction is a rather new undertaking and is quite different than the natural gas operations of the recent past. This is the expected method of development for these areas.

The Marcellus Shale drilling footprint is considerably larger than traditional Oriskany wells and possesses a major component unique from its predecessor: large water volume fracture treatments, or hydro-fracturing. These two issues seem to put Marcellus drilling operations in a league of their own, thus requiring updated regulatory standards, more stringent enforcement, and new water treatment and disposal technology. Hydro-fracturing requires millions of gallons of fresh water, usually extracted from local bodies of water, mixed with a corporation’s own chemical recipe. Components of this “frac” fluid, by law, are viewed as proprietary and do not have to be revealed. However, it is known that the fluids are high in salinity and possess a wide variety of carcinogenic and environmentally harmful chemicals.

Furthermore, the fluid underground is in contact with many rocks and minerals and from them gains hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and radioactivity. This fluid is one of the most serious concerns of the Marcellus drilling boom. It permanently contaminates excessive amounts of our fresh water when created and threatens to contaminate even more through its disposal.

The disposal of these fluids is very expensive for the gas industry. The frac fluid can be injected into the ground for storage, hauled to wastewater treatment plants, or reused. The underground storage is a concern due to the possibility of contamination of groundwater or seepage into waterways. Currently, there are only two permitted Underground Injection Control wells in West Virginia, few water treatment plants capable of adequately treating this type of fluid, and not enough treatment facilities to handle hydro-fracturing volumes.

The brief history of Marcellus play includes a number of accidents and careless decisions from the gas industry, resulting in environmental catastrophes. New York and Pennsylvania have already learned, from experience, that the affects of hydro-fracturing can be detrimental to freshwater resources when not managed properly. As a result, they are dealing with dead streams and unhealthy drinking water. So far, West Virginia has few of these experiences with natural gas development. Other concerns associated with Marcellus drilling operations include non-stop engine noise, heavy traffic, and long term occupancy.

The Monongahela National Forest is treasured by the citizens of West Virginia and by all of its visitors. To jeopardize the public land trust in favor of a few private interests would most certainly devalue the treasure and generate opposition from user groups such as The Mountain Institute, as well as the general public. A considerable portion of the proposed drilling area is used consistently during TMI programs and is viewed by thousands of students and adult visitors each year. This area is promoted by TMI as a pristine “wilderness” and the definitive example of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. Marcellus Shale drilling in the vicinity of TMI could severely limit the program area and affect the everyday lives of those who live at and visit the Spruce Knob Mountain Center.

Recently, Forest Service officials held a meeting at the Monongahela Forest Headquarters in Elkins, WV. The Forest Supervisor and other USFS officials met with representatives from TMI, Trout Unlimited, and Friends of Blackwater Canyon to discuss the impacts that drilling operations could have on TMI programs and the surrounding forest and watersheds. TMI plans to continue monitoring this situation, as well as the streams and forests of this area.

Until proper water treatment technology and enforceable regulations are in place, the mistakes made and damage caused in New York and Pennsylvania could be repeated in West Virginia. Until then, The Mountain Institute cannot support Marcellus Shale drilling in the Allegheny Highlands of the Monongahela National Forest.

by Joshua Nease

Photo by Edward Todd,