Monday, October 16, 2006

(Tardy) Weekend Five: Appalachian Environmental Service Project

Volunteers at Caanan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia
For Information on Volunteering, visit their website at

First off, I want to apologize. Normally this would have been out on Friday, but I didn't get it done till Monday, due to my vast enjoyment of Homecoming at my dear old Emory & Henry College. Lo siento.

This past week I got to attend the annual Knoxville Orchids and Onions dinner. It is a great event - in essence, Knoxville's chapter of Keep America Beautiful (Keep Knoxville Beautiful) publically commends those organizations, corporations, and individuals who have substantially contributed to the area's beauty and/or environmental quality. Also, the dinner publicizes buildings and lots that are in grave need of repair or replacement, in part because they are mere eyesores, and in part because they are decreasing the value of the surrounding area - seeds, if you will, of urban blight.
Well, the dinner got this old Eagle Scout thinking, hmm, what organizations are there that help organize volunteer's contributions of both capital and service to the improvement of the Appalachian region's natural and urban beauty? I am interested in this for both practical and esoteric reasons - esoteric because I think the big ugly is bad thing, practical because beautiful places tend to have happier people who work harder and attract capital both in terms of business and tourism. Consider:

1. Keep America Beautiful: KAB describes itself quite admirably on its website. Consider:

Keep America Beautiful is a national nonprofit community improvement and educational organization with a network of more than 540 local, statewide and international affiliate programs that educates individuals about litter prevention and ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and properly manage waste materials. Through partnerships and strategic alliances with citizens, businesses and government, Keep America Beautiful’s programs motivate millions of volunteers annually to clean up, beautify and improve their neighborhoods, thereby creating healthier, safer and more livable community environments. The story begins in 1953, when a group of corporate and civic leaders met in New York City to discuss a revolutionary idea—bringing the public and private sectors together to develop and promote a national cleanliness ethic.

Groovy, eh? You might be interested to know that two of the states in the southern Appalachians, Tennnessee and West Virginia, have their own websites/organizations, with Knoxville and Sevier County, both in Tennessee, having solid sites of their own. Hitting the American site, however, will put you into contact with whatever private or public body coordinates KAB locally in your area.

2. Appalachian Trail Conservancy: I think I'm going to stick to the big quote theme today, so, without further ado:

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer-based, private nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the 2,175-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a 250,000-acre greenway extending from Maine to Georgia. Our mission is to ensure that future generations will enjoy the clean air and water, scenic vistas, wildlife and opportunities for simple recreation and renewal along the entire Trail corridor.
Formerly known as the Appalachian Trail Conference, the ATC is an 80-year-old organization whose roots are traced to the vision of Benton MacKaye, who convened and organized the first Appalachian Trail "conference" – a gathering of hikers, foresters and public officials – in Washington, D.C., in 1925. Today, we work with the National Park Service Appalachian Trail Park Office, 30 maintaining clubs and multiple other partners to engage the public in conserving this essential American resource.

Living in Knoxville, I know a thing or two about maintaining interstates. Along with Vol football, interstate maintenance and expansion (and the costs and delays involved) is the most common subject of conversation here. Well, think of the AT as the most used interstate for hikers - between foot traffic and weather, it takes a beating. Well, whether you're a long distance hiker or a day hiker, you're using a service that has to be "paid" for somehow. Volunteers pay that cost through their labor. Give'm a call.

3. The Nature Conservancy: In essence, the Nature Conservancy, one of the better known nature conservation groups, does tons of volunteer work all over the world, coordinating every imaginable sort of project. You're interested in some local work? Sure you are. Well, why not click on one of the links to the various state organizations: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Oh, and by the by, fantastic website.

4. Adopt-a-Highway Programs: Okay, okay, this one, notsomuch a link as much as it is a few links. Who really needs an explanation of this incredibly popular program - you get your group to volunteer to maintain a roadway in your local area, promising to clean a two-mile stretch of litter three or four times a year. I just have to quote this quip on West Virginia's Department of Transportation site:

In West Virginia there are currently 30,000 volunteers who regularly pick up litter on 4,000 miles of highway. They have been responsible for removing more than 20 million pounds of litter since the program began.

Did you get that? 20,000,000 pounds. 4000 miles. That's people helping people, baby.

Its all pretty simple, makes a huge difference in a road's appearance, and you don't need many people to do it - on a city street with no median four people could do it in an hour or so: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.

5. American's in general are blessed by two key points. Our nation-state did not develop either as quickly as some nor as early as others. This gave us the ability to avoid some of the mistakes (though of course not all) of our peer nation-states with regards to our natural environment. The good Mr. Teddy Roosevelt, along with other visionaries such as John Muir, thus had the ability to limit the extent of our development of our terrain, allowing us to preserve a substantial part of what the Deity blessed this continent with. The same point can be made in spades for Appalachia, where some counties are overwhelmingly still in their natural states, allowing men and women to have gainful employment in our modern service industries and yet still live in and around Beauty. I capitalize it because, dammit, its a noun in Appalachia.
Americans, and vistors to the Union, appreciate this incredible Beauty - they visit it often and repeatedly. Heck, the most visited national park in the country is the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest, receiving literally millions of visitors every year. That said, despite all this admiration, despite this appreciation, many people don't follow that ironclad law I learned when I was 6 and a Tiger Cub (that's lower than either a Cub Scout or a worm's belly, for those of you interested): take only photos, leave only footprints. And since the United States has neither unlimited resources nor do we want to be taxed at extraordinarily high rates, it takes volunteers to maintain our parks, to clean up after ourselves.
Enter, stage left,

Volunteer.Gov/Gov is a partnership among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, State of New York Division of Veterans Affairs, the Corporation for National and Community Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S.A. Freedom Corps aimed at providing a single, easy-to-use web portal with information about volunteer opportunities. The site allows you to search for volunteer opportunities by keyword, state, activity, partner, and/or date range.

All the site is, in other words, is a way for you, the citizens of the Union, to find out ways to help other citizens take care of the holdings of the Union for the benefit of yourselves and your children. For some, its beneficence, for others its self-interest. And for others, it's the trees.
All that said, you can either link into the sites via the site's gateway/index or you can just hit the state-based sites: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.


the Contrary Goddess said...

TNC is the largest receiver of agricultural payouts in Virginia. Ok, so I don't have all my technical terms in a row right at the moment, but you know what I mean. They get tobacco money, money for not growing crops, etc. And they are NOT a shining example of either non-profit (hahahaha! the executive directors of any non-profit are definitely not doing it for free folks! Or even for average income) OR PRIVATE endeavor since without the government's money, they would cease to exist.

But I'm contrary.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Actually, the Nature Conservancy gets funds from pretty much everywhere - private, public, corporate, and so forth. Like most nongovernmental organizations, they get their money where they can. They have a page discussing their major donors here. Same, I'd imagine, with most of these organizations (excepting the straight governmental ones, of course). And, while I'm sure its not perfect by any means, Forbes magazine recommended the Nature Conservancy as one of the NGOs that actually spends the highest proportion of the money it takes in on what it purports to exist for. A best-worst thing, so to speak.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Oh, and I must go mud-surfing some time. So awesome.

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