Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caught on Camera

I've talked to some folks who had not seen this video yet. A major rock slide earlier this week closed US 64 in Polk County, TN, just west of Murphy, NC. News crews were already there for a much smaller slide and captured some cool footage of the big slide as it happened. This was a very, very close call for several people who had been working on the road a few minutes before:



This news report has more context and higher quality video:



One reporter called Ocoee Gorge "ominous" and that's a good description based on what I recall from a drive through there several years ago. I was amazed to see how a railroad had been constructed through that gorge long ago.

Lots of people are now too young to remember what it used to be like around Ducktown and the Copper Basin (near the rock slide) but it made a deep impression on me when I traveled through there on vacation circa 1960:



Copper Basin has greened up since then but the place is still eerie.

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture explains what happened:

Perhaps the greatest environmental disaster occurred in the forty-square-mile Copper Basin of Polk County. Mining of the copper deposits near Ducktown began approximately 1850, but the worst environmental damage occurred between 1890 and 1907. The open-roasting process used to remove copper from the ore required acres of timber to fuel the smelters, clearing the forests for miles around the basin. The release of sulfuric dioxide created during the extraction process added greater insult to the environment, as the corrosive gas mixed with rain to settle sulfuric acid on the land, killing all remaining vegetation and the marine life of the Ocoee River. The red clay hills, barren as the moon, eroded further with each downpour. In 1908 a process to capture the sulfuric acid through closed smelting was put into place, but visible aspects of the damage remain after ninety years, despite past (and partially successful) conservation efforts by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Back in 1988, the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation published M. L. Quinn's article, "Tennessee's Copper Basin: A case for preserving an abused landscape."

He made an unusual proposal, as suggested by this excerpt:

SOCIETY preserves certain landscapes by designating them as parks or by some other means, thereby maintaining them in their existing state as much as possible. This is done for several reasons, but often because people deem the landscape particularly scenic; because it is an unusual or spectacular natural phenomenon; or because it is significant historically, culturally, or both. Few question, for example, the scenic attributes of the Grand Teton Mountains, the spectacular nature of Crater Lake, or the historical significance of Gettysburg Battlefield. Preserved or protected landscapes possess what society has determined are unique qualities that distinguish them from other settings, and a general consensus often exists regarding these qualities.

For some landscapes, however, various groups of people perceive them very differently, or society's perception of them changes over time Tennessee's Copper Basin serves as a case in point.

The Copper Basin is located primarily in the extreme southeastern corner of Tennessee. Mountains surround the 60,000-acre basin on the west, north, and east, creating a bowl-like feature. Copper mining and smelting began in the area in the 1850s....


With the pines having reclaimed those hills, it looks like we missed the opportunity to preserve a bit of Martian landscape in the middle of the Southern Appalachians.

I wonder what Professor Quinn would say about mountaintop removal...

4 comments:

dwbrewin said...

When I moved to Brasstown in 1980 I used to go over that way pretty regularly. They used to sell post cards of Copper Hill relating how the natives had come to really like their unique landscape. This was a landscape that would burn your skin if you went in any of the streams over there and in 1980 they were getting excited that a little kudzu had taken root as that was the first green anyone had seen in years.

GULAHIYI said...

Humans ARE peculiar creatures.

Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

The moon, the moon,
Let's all go to the moon.
If we destroy the earth,
We'll all get there soon.

You'd think those who pollute
Would wake up by noon.
Else wise us and they
Will be living there soon

The moon, the moon,
Oh what a loon
Let's waste it all
For a final funeral tune.

Chuck Connors, November 14, 2009

Anonymous said...

just an fyi-they did preserve a little of the "moon" it sits behind the museum which is in the hoist house on 64 ! keep up the awesome blog - been reading you for a fewyears ! thanx, robyn from ducktown