Archive for May, 2007

Entry for May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007
Had Evelyn Bethel and Helen Davis over to luch, as wwell as Elaine Fleck. Evelyn says the GSA has deemed the Gainsboro site as no longer viable for the new Social Security building.
In looking to see whether the Roanoke Times had posted a story yet, I found none, but instead there was one on the restoration of Oliver hill’s boyhood home. The Gainsboro neighborhood in Roanoke, Virginia, decimated by urban renewal to the extent that it was featured in Mindy Thompson Fullilove’s book Rootshock, is fighting its way back, thanks to the eforts of neighborhood activists such as Evelyn Bethel and Helen Thomas. The two sisters got their neighborhood declared historic and thus stopped a highway from going through. They preserved the neighborhood’s library and got a grant to plant two dozen red maples along Patton and Gilmer Avenues.
Now the neighborhood is getting another boost. Last month, as famed and beloved civil rights attorney Oiver White Hill turned one hunded, the foundation established in October 2000 in his honor bought the house at 401 Gilmer Avenue and is working on renovating it and converting it to a headquarters for free legal services for the community to be provided mainly by law school students.
Hill became an architect of the Brown v. Board of Education case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racially separate schools could never truly be equal.
Professor Charles J. Ogletree of Harvard Law School has observed, “Any serious examination of the Civil Rights Movement’s heyday must go through Richmond, Virginia, and has to embrace the incredible efforts and accomplishments of Oliver Hill. As one of America’s most distinguished attorneys, and the Renaissance man of the Civil Rights Movement, Oliver Hill carved paths of justice from the schools to the streets of Richmond all the way to the United States Supreme Court . . . . His words and deeds, like those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall and Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, provide inspiration and direction for the 21st century civil rights leaders to continue the battle to make America the country it is destined to be.”
Born in Richmond in 1907, Hill moved to Roanoke with his mother and stepfather at the age of six. They shared the home with another family, the Pentecosts, and when Hill’s parents moved to Hot Springs to work at the Homestead resort, he stayed on with the Pentecosts and credits the household matriarch, Lelia Pentecost, with instilling him with dignity, self-esteem and the belief that blacks deserve the same treatment as whites.
Other influential blacks to live on Gilmer Avenue in that era include Roanoke’s first black dentist, Edward R. Dudley, whose son became a New York State Supreme Court justice and ambassador to Liberia, and physicians J.B. Claytor Sr. and J.H. Roberts, co-founders of Burrell Memorial Hospital.
I’d like to write an article on the topic and include an interview with Clarence Dunnaville, Jr., a Richmond attorney, native Roanoker, friend of Hill and director of the Hill Foundation, as to the group’s plans for the renovation, as well as with Gainsboro neighborhood activists, such as Eveylyn Bethel and Helen Thomas.

Page View Statistics (visitor count no longer available from yahoo.)

May 2007: 14,253
2007 YTD: 60,229
2006 TOTAL: 61,308
Total since 1/1/06: 121,537


Entry for May 30, 2007

May 30, 2007

As the National Park system counts down to its centennial in 2016, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) 2006 study, “The U.S. National Park System: An Economic Asset at Risk,” noted, “The park system generates at least four dollars in value to the public for every tax dollar invested in its annual budget. Yet, every year the parks suffer an operating shortfall of $800 million, in addition to a massive multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. As a result, the fiscal crisis confronting the national parks continues to deepen and important park functions go without, park infrastructure decays, natural ecosystems are overrun with exotic species, historical treasures are inadequately preserved, and public safety is jeopardized.” NPCA estimates that national parks now suffer from a chronic, $800-million annual operating shortfall.

On the Blue Ridge Parkway, for instance, “out of 254 permanent positions, there are 63 vacancies which will not be filled, ” according to foundation (BRPF) Executive Director Houck Medford. Holly Burcham, Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) Marketing Director, says that openings also remain vacant in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park used 117,285 hours of volunteer service in 2006, “equal to 56.4 permanent staff members” for tasks including “administration, campground hosting, interpretation, visitor protection, maintenance, and natural and cultural resource management.”

FOTS is the official “friends group” recognized by the Park Service to raise funds and coordinate volunteers for the park. BRPF serves as the parkway’s official principal fund raiser, while Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway concentrates on coordinating volunteers for tasks such as working cash registers at the visitors centers, helping wit janitorial and maintenance duties, hosting campgrounds and demonstrating crafts, among other duties.

Readers can learn how to help out by contacting these groups, as listed at the end of this article. Additionally, they can write Congress and encourage greater funding for both parks, which charge no admission fees. The need for additional funding is dire. For instance, a BRPF fact sheet states that, “Staffing levels have decreased, from 241.5 work-years in FY 2001 to 219.3 work years in FY 2005….The unfilled vacancies include the chief of maintenance, chief of concessions, chief of interpretation, and the public relations officer. The current staff vacancy rate in Resource Planning and Professional Services (compliance, landscape architecture, planning) is 40%; consequently, the General Management Plan (GMP, the guiding document for park management) is two years behind schedule and most future management decisions about park as they impact communities have been delayed or remain undefined. Proactively discouraging encroaching development no longer occurs; more trophy homes are being built adjacent to the motor road.”

Many “campgrounds, picnic areas, visitor centers and other facilities now open later in the spring and close earlier in the autumn. The Blue Ridge Parkway at the outset of FY 2005 began operating at a $1.0+ million dollar deficit if operations were to continue at FY 2006 levels of service and staffing. The maintenance backlog for the Blue Ridge Parkway remains more than $200M.”

According to BRPF:

  • Downed trees are cleared less frequently, often taking weeks instead of days.
  • Vistas have become overgrown or become non-existent.
  • Restrooms (over 200) which are serviced by mostly outdated sewage treatment facilities are cleaned less often.
  • The mowing schedule is greatly reduced.”

On May 23, the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies marked up the FY 2008 budget, providing $2.5 billion for the National Park Service, an increase of $228 million above FY07, exceeding Bush’s budget by $153 million $25 million above the Administration’s request for Park Service to acquire lands threatened by development.

According to NPCA President Tom Kiernan “The House proposal is a grand slam for our national parks. The House has provided record funding for national parks, putting rangers back in the parks to protect resources and educate and inspire visitors. It will also provide funds to protect land threatened by development and jump-start the Centennial Initiative…

“This proposal is an excellent down payment on what must be a multi-year, multi-pronged effort to restore the national parks before their centennial in 2016.”

Now is the time to write the Senate and ask for similar funding. Both WV Senator Robert Byrd and TN Senator Lamar Alexander sit on the Senate’s Appropriation Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies chaired by Dianne Feinstein of California. As Kiernan says, “Taking care of our national parks should be a national priority.”

Contacts: Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation: call (336) 721-0260 or email

Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway: call (800) 228-7275 or email

Friends of the Smokies: call (800) 845-5655 or for Tennessee email Holly Burcham at or for North Carolina, email Elaine Stewart at

National Parks Conservation Association: call legislative director Bla
ke Selzer at (202) 454.3380 or email

Entry for May 29, 2007

May 29, 2007

Illustration from lobby day package.

Larry Bush says that all his life he had never failed to catch minnows for bait in the creek below his home and now everything’s dead due to the mine waste. The Vietnam veteran, who stresses he’s no relation to the president, worked first as a coal miner and then as a federal mine inspector. He knows there are less destructive ways to mine thin coal seams than so-called mountaintop removal (MTR), ways that would provide more jobs in the southern mountains and still provide the coal companies with generous profits. He also says that because he knows mining law, he’s filed numerous complaints on violations, all to no avail.

Coal states have failed to enact and/or enforce sufficient legislation to protect its citizens from the ravages of MTR. Federal legislators from the coalfields refuse to strengthen laws and reign in the coal operators. Often members of their state delegations defer to their judgement as to what is best for their constituents, as do many legislators in other parts of the nation. That’s why more than one hundred people from 19 states gathered during the second annual Mountaintop Removal Week May 12-16 in Washington, D.C. As a first step, this year they sought and gained new co-sponsors for the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 2169), urging Congress, “They’re blowing up our mountains; there ought to be a law.”

Larry Bush drove the 7 ½ hours from his home in Appalachia, Virginia with fellow Wise County residents in the recently-formed Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS– website). They shared their firsthand stories about the effects of MTR, joined by other coalfield residents from groups such as WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch, TN’s Save Our Cumberland Mountains and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Also traveling to Washington were former coalfield residents and other advocates for the mountains, the environment and social justice.

MTR has destroyed over 2500 peaks in Southern Appalachia for a small yield of coal. MTR generates less than 5% of the country’s electric power, power which could be easily recouped through conservation. MTR has buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in toxic rubble, affecting the Southeast’s watershed. This “strip-mining on steroids” destroys not only mountains, health and culture; it destroys the potential for the generation of sustainable wind power.

While the Clean Water Protection Act will not eliminate MTR, it will reverse a 2002 Bush administration rule by the Army Corps of Engineers which allows mining waste to be classified as “fill.” The Act will thus restore the original intent of the 1977 Clean Water Act, which barred industries from dumping waste into waterways. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the measure May 3, 2007 with Christopher Shays (R-CT) and 61 other co-sponsors including Jim Moran (D-VA), Heath Shuler and Brad Miller (D-NC), Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Ben Chandler and Jim Yarmuth (D-KY). John W. Olver (D-MA) added his name on May 10.

After training on May 13, the citizen lobbyists worked from the parish hall of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation at 212 East Capitol Street, two blocks east of the US Capitol. Their 100-plus meetings with Congressional offices included 20 face-to-face sessions with Congress members. Co-sponsor Ben Chandler heartened a large contingent on May 15 when he spoke about his connection his family’s land and his willingness to not only support the Clean Water Protection Act, but to sponsor a complete overhaul of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) as soon as the national environmental groups were ready to support the effort. By contrast Rick Boucher (D-VA)’s Chief of Staff Laura Vaught reiterated Boucher’s position that to a large group that MTR was a “hot-button” issue because of the potential loss of jobs. Boucher’s position contradicts that of many who maintain that as mining jobs dwindle, especially in the case of MTR, the coal industry is actually blocking alternate economic development. CensusMapper, a joint venture of Stratamodel, Inc. and Techbase International Ltd., reports that while “Appalachian counties produced billions of dollars worth of coal in 2003, ” [i] n general, the greater the value of coal produced in an Appalachian county the lower the median household income was” that year.

By May 24, an additional 15 co-sponsors had signed on–Republican Frank Wolf (VA) and Democrats Doris O. Matsui and Hilda L. Solis (CA); Hank Johnson (GA); Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Danny K. Davis (IL), Julia Carson (IN-7); Michael E. Capuano , Edward J. Markey and Richard E. Neal (MA); Rush D. Holt (NJ); Brian Higgins, Louise McIntosh Slaughter and Eliot L Engel (NY); and David Wu (OR).

Organizations sponsoring the lobby week, in addition to Appalachian Voices included: Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Coal River Mountain Watch, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Keeper of the Mountains, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, United Mountain Defense, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Readers can view the lobbying package and find out if their representatives have co-sponsored the bill by visiting the links found at If your representatives are co-sponsors, please write and thank them; if not, please ask that they so. Then contact your friends throughout the country and ask them to do the same.

Earthjustice also has an action page and invites readers to set up a personal page to recruit support to end MTR. To see a sample and find the link for such your own page, go to

Entry for May 28, 2007

May 29, 2007

Photo from the local attraction’s page.

Barry and I travelled for the third time to see the progress in restoring Thomas Jerfferson’s retreat home, Poplar Forest.

Entry for May 27, 2007

May 29, 2007

Had Elizabeth and her daughter Emelia over for dinner (Thai peanut soup featuring Jack Ferguson’s turip greens and green onions). Afterwards, we alked over to Mountain Avenue to look at a house on the market and to talk to Elaine Fleck and her husband Richard.

Entry for May 26, 2007

May 26, 2007

Dinner tonight at Lily’s!

I mentioned yesterday, Appalachian Voices commissioned a story on the need for volunteers in National Parks given the funding shorfalls. Bill Kovarik, a RU Communications Prof edits the publication.

The National Park Service budget request for FY 2008 has the following figures for FY2006 funding, the FY 2007 and 2008 requestions, respectively”

  • Blue Ridge Parkway: 14,001,000; 14,223,000; and 15,514,000
  • Great Smokies National Park: 16,796,000; 17,192,000; and 18,690;000.

Jared Hardner and Bruce McKenney of Hardner & Gullison Associates, LLC noted in a May 30, 2006 study prepared for the National Parks Conservation Association, “The U.S. National Park System: An Economic Asset at Risk,”

The park system generates at least four dollars in value to the public for every tax dollar invested in its annual budget. Yet, every year the parks suffer an operating shortfall of $800 million, in addition to a massive multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. As a result, the fiscal crisis confronting the national parks continues to deepen and important park functions go without, park infrastructure decays, natural ecosystems are overrun with exotic species, historical treasures are inadequately preserved, and public safety is jeopardized.

Hardner and Gullison is a private consulting firm providing technical assistance in the field of conservation to foundations, citizen groups, governments, and corporations. The following individuals provided feedback on the study: Dr. Bruce Peacock of the National Park Service, Dr. Daniel Stynes of Michigan State University, and Dr. John Loomis of Colorado State University.

The reference desk at the Roanoke County Public referred by to two interesting articles:

“Put on a Happy Face: National Park Service employees muzzled on budget shortfalls and other problems” by Amanda Griscom appeared 12 May 2004 in Grist

more later the library closeth.

Entry for May 25, 2007

May 25, 2007

Poster from Blacksburg artist Suzy Nees (email, blog)

Appalachian Voices has commissioned two stories! One on MTR week in Washington and one on the decimation of staffing at National Parks. Eric Reece had a commentary in the New York Times May 5, “A Beutiful Mountain.”

Entry for May 24, 2007

May 25, 2007

Good news on the Clean Water Protection Act. According to Appalachian Voices, over 100 volunteers from 19 states met with more than 100 congressional offices and had 20 face-to-face meetings with representatives.

Thomas lists fifteen co-sponsors which signed on May 10-23. Of these Wolf of Virginia is the only Republican.

  • May 10: John W. Olver [MA-1];
  • May 14: Frank R. Wolf [R, VA-10], Edward J. Markey [MA-7] , Doris O. Matsui [CA-5], and Brian Higgins [NY-27];
  • May 16: Richard E. Neal [MA-2] and Danny K. Davis [IL-7]
  • May 21: Louise McIntosh Slaughter [NY-28], Julia Carson [IN-7] and Rush D. Holt, [NJ-12];
  • May 23: Eliot L Engel [NY-17], David Wu [OR-1], Hilda L. Solis [CA-32], Eleanor Holmes Norton[DC] and Michaael E. Capuano [MA-8].

To this add Hank Johnson (GA-4), the 78th co-sponsor, according to

Entry for May 23, 2007

May 25, 2007

Swallowtail in Blacksburg and spent night at Dan’s.

Entry for May 22, 2007

May 25, 2007

place held