In it for the long haul

By Lauren Hallow Published:

Dozens of protesters have staged sit-ins outside the governor’s office leading up to “I Love Mountains Day,” but the last shift before today’s big rally went to Footprints for Peace.

The group deserved a break – its members spent the last two weeks walking here from Eastern Kentucky.

“We’re a little sore, lots of blisters and lots of Band Aids,” said Bob Thompson, of Crestwood, minutes after the walkers reached First Christian Church, their eating and sleeping quarters Monday night. 

“But morale is high.”

About a dozen people, hailing from New Jersey to rural Kentucky, spent the last 12 days walking from Prestonsburg to Frankfort – about 150 miles – to protest mountaintop removal mining.

They’ll join hundreds of protesters at the Capitol for “I Love Mountains Day,” a rally hosted today by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth advocating an end to the coal mining technique. 

It’s the fourth year Footprints for Peace, a global non-government organization that uses walking to bring awareness to environmental and social issues, has made the trek, which is called “Walk for a Sustainable Future.”  

While the group said it’s looking forward to the sit-in before the rally, Cincinnati resident Jim Toren, Footprints for Peace board member, said sitting outside the governor’s office isn’t really Footprints for Peace’s style.

“We don’t lobby – we do this from a grassroots perspective,” Toren said. “If you go out and talk to people face-to-face, heart-to-heart, it helps to spread the message.”

The walkers began Feb. 1 with a tour of a former mountaintop removal mining site in Hueysville, Ky., hosted by Rick Handshoe.

Handshoe is against mountaintop removal because he says the coal mines have polluted the creek behind his house. 

Connie Lemley, a Frankfort resident who’s participated in several sit-ins outside the governor’s office, met the group for the tour and said she was shocked at what she found.

“The most interesting thing was to see how close people were living to it … we were able to walk from someone’s house in four minutes to the hill (the former mountaintop),” Lemley said.

 “There was so much dust … we could see the coal trucks barreling down the road past the houses.”

Lemley arranged for the group’s accommodations at First Christian Church and prepared a homemade dinner Monday with fresh food from her farm. She, along with her 10-year-old daughter, Ella Lemley-Fry, met the group in Lexington Sunday for the last leg of the walk to Frankfort. 

“I really liked the idea of walking into Frankfort with this message, and it’s really neat when people drive by and honk and see that message,” Lemley said.

But not everyone was so friendly. The walkers said they typically receive warmer responses once they move away from the coal fields.

 Last year was the first time the group started in Prestonsburg – the previous two years were in Lexington. Toren said the coal mining community didn’t know how to react to Footprints for Peace.

 “There was a lot of tension,” Toren said. “They looked at us as ‘outsiders,’ but in reality, our water supply starts there.”

Lexington resident Larry Crane, also a board member of Footprints for Peace, said it was difficult to start conversations with the miners because people thought the protesters were there to take away their jobs. 

“Talking to the people locally and talking to the miners and having them express their sorrows in losing their jobs if we are successful (in our protest), we’ve come to understand that what we’re really for is a sustainable economy,” Crane said.

Crane and the others said if they are successful in stopping coal mining, other sources of energy, such as wind and solar, can be used in the mountains, and miners can go to work for those industries.

Crane also suggested the miners could be put to work restoring the mountains.

“We don’t have many options for employment in the mountains, and if they tear those down, we won’t have anything to look at,” Crane said, adding that the area could be restored for tourism. “Who wants to go see toxic water and creeks?”

As Toren said, the goal of Footprints for Peace is to spread the message so others, like legislators, can find ways to address the problem.

“We’re trying to get that idea out in front of the public … so brighter minds than mine can figure out how to build that (renewable energy) industry and capitalize on it,” Crane said.

Gov. Steve Beshear toured Handshoe’s home and the former mining sites in April. Handshoe, a former radio technician for Kentucky State Police, says his creek has run orange four times since the governor’s visit. 

Beshear has consistently contended mountaintop removal is a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly way to mine coal.

 

 

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