Today was the final day of our stay in Asheville, NC, and our second day with the Western North Carolina Alliance (WNCA). The French Broad River is the body of water that is most affected by the coal ash pollution, and is also most cared about by the local community, as it is used for various aspects of recreation like swimming, fishing, boating and canoeing. Today we got to experience this by canoeing on the river. We set sail in the morning, headed towards the Little River Campsite, one of many campsites along the river. This ride was not just for our leisure, it was to carry a large amount of supplies over to the campsite which otherwise would have had to be carried there along a hike. These supplies were given to us by Hartwell Carson, the Riverkeeper from WNCA, and they included loppers, hoes, rakes and other tools that we used to remove Privet, an invasive plant species that had overgrown the campsite.
We spent a long afternoon ripping up these plants from the root in order to free the picnic table and other open spaces that make up this recreational area. This required a great deal of manpower (and in our team’s case, mostly womanpower), and being a large group, we were able to accomplish a lot during the time that we were there. These campsites are an important part of the community. The French Broad River is a greatly appreciated aspect of the community, and the campsites allow “Ashevillians” to use and develop a more intimate connection with the river.
This is why it is so important for coal ash pollution to be regulated better, so that these people do not lose this precious aspect of their lifestyle. This relates to us because the coal ash ponds existing in Northampton County affects us too, and this is a great way to learn about the issue and try to help others who are more directly being affected by it.
Even just canoeing along the river for a short time today, I developed an appreciation for the river just because of it’s beauty as part of nature. It was saddening to think about the amount of toxic pollution that was seeping into and being discharged into it everyday, possibly destroying the ecosystem, as well as limiting its potential for recreational use. This was good inspiration for realizing that the cause we are fighting for with this movement beyond coal has a wide array of benefits concerning not only human health, but also conservation of natural areas.
After we finished our work at the campsite, we hopped back in the canoes and brought them further down the river where we could be picked up along the road by Hartwell. We ran into some difficulties removing the canoes from the river along the steep river banks, which forced us to use some physically intense teamwork that I believe ultimately brought the team closer, increasing our trust with each other.
Today was a definitely a fun way to finish up our service work in Asheville. I wish we had a few more days to stay, since we are coming closer as a group and becoming more attached to the topic of our trip: environmental justice.