Monday, January 25, 2010

Flooded Towns and Leaky Roofs

The rain fell last night in a torrent. I awoke several times throughout the night to hear that the storm had not subsided, but had increased its intensity. As the sky grew lighter, the rain finally let up to a light drizzle. Out the window, the eight inches of frozen snow and ice that had covered the landscape was gone and rivers of water poured over the exposed rock and grass. Living at the top of the mountain, at the head of the watershed, pondering the volume of water flowing away from you doesn't not create the fear it would if you lived 25 miles downstream; It creates concern for those below you.

Schools were closed in all surrounding counties. Marlinton was closed to all traffic. Rivers everywhere had left or were about to leave their banks. The Greenbrier Valley seemed to be getting hit the hardest. The most familiar part of the Greenbrier to most is the calm, wide river that flows through Cass and Marlinton, past Watoga State Park and towards Lewisburg. The economy of the surrounding communities seems to be based on the tourism that the river brings. The Greenbrier River Trail is a favorite to many and the river is canoed and fished by thousands of people every year.

The Greenbrier River comes together in Durbin, WV at the confluence of its two largest tributaries, the East Fork and West Fork of the Greenbrier. Both rivers are of substantial size and hold fantastic populations of trout. Following either tributary North takes you through deep canyons and into a high country that is lightly travelled. The East Fork begins in high elevation wetlands that are home to rare species of Canadian plants, Balsam Fir and Spruce. As it flows, the river gradually widens, takes on more water, and quickly becomes a fantastic Brown Trout fishery. The high elevations of this watershed were, until last night covered with same 8 inches of snow and ice that Spruce Knob was covered in.

By noon today, all of this water flowed through Main Street in Marlinton. The river didn't crest as high as initially predicted, however, as the water recedes, the damage is becoming evident. The Pocahontas County Times ( and Allegheny Mountain Radio providing updates on the status of the river and those affected.

The affects of the storm on Spruce Knob are minimal compared to those downstream, but still inconvenient. At 8:00 this morning, the Earth Sheltered Office was leaking in about 15 spots and reiterated a fact that we already know. We need a new roof. We'll keep saving money and collecting donations, and hopefully by next summer, we can put a solid top on the office. Until then, we'll keep catching the leaks and running the dehumidifiers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter's Here to Stay

We're in the midst of a real winter. As in much of the state, the mercury dropped below freezing in mid-December and has showed no signs of rising since. The pre-Christmas snow storm that paralyzed much of the mid-Atlantic dropped well over two feet of snow in the Spruce Knob area and snow has fallen nearly every day since. The wind picked up around the first of the year, blowing this snow in every direction and leaving drifts on the driveway that are taller than most everyone I know. The yurts are open to ski and snowshoe traffic only and it appears that this will be the case for some time to come. The state road crew plows the road up to the gate and David Colby Martin, TMI's Program Officer who also lives on the mountain, has a plow on his truck and has kept our lower parking area open and provides us access to the office.

It's the time of year where we get a chance to catch up on work that goes by the wayside during our busy program seasons. We work to better our programming options and content, plan for improvements in our overall operation, catch up with TMI friends and supporters, and fill the remaining gaps in our spring program schedule. This time, although casual, spawns the philosophy of a new year of operation. We brainstorm, compare thoughts and ideas, revisit our mission, and work on making The Mountain Institute more effective.

The sun doesn't rise over Spruce until after 7:30, remains low in the sky, and is soon behind us and back in the trees well before work is through. There are no unexpected visitors, no hunting dogs, and no traffic. When the wind blows, that's all one can hear. It swirls in the canyon and picks up speed as it rises over Back Ridge, across the High Plains, up and over Spruce Knob, and continues on its way towards the Atlantic.