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The Clinch Coalition: A crusade to conserve the national forest

• Aug 12, 2016 at 11:00 AM

With the mission to “protect the forest, wildlife and watersheds of our national forest and surrounding communities for present and future generations,” The Clinch Coalition (TCC) of Southwest Virginia works to promote sustainable forestry - removing only a small number of trees per acre - and educating the public on the importance of nature preservation.

TCC is a grassroots non-profit organization operating in the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest with a focus on High Knob, a 4,223-foot mountain spanning Virginia's three most western counties. The group was formed in 1998, challenging the proposed Bark Camp Timber Sale on High Knob with a petition with over 5,000 signatures. TCC secured the support of several regional and national organizations, sponsored hikes and rallies, and put up billboards. The campaign resulted in the reduction of the timber sale from the intended 1,400 acres to 680.

The newfound coalition hinged its efforts on safeguarding High Knob, which lies in the heart of the Clinch Valley Bioreserve, a 2,200 square mile section of Southwest Virginia and upper East Tennessee that is “home to more rare and endangered aquatic and botanical species than any other region in the continental United States.”

TCC, made up of “hikers, students, teachers, farmers, business persons and nature lovers,” developed its goals based on the belief that “appreciating, understanding and protecting our environment is essential to improving our quality of life, health and well-being.”

The organization’s goals are: protect and preserve the natural heritage, unique ecosystems and environmental integrity of the Clinch Ranger District and surrounding communities; improve the economic and environmental sustainability of far Southwest Virginia; and increase community awareness of environmental issues and stewardship.

TCC’s conservation crusade has led its members to lobby for countless causes. In 2001, they called for the creation of High Knob National Recreation Area (NRA) to limit timbering, boost tourism and help prevent flash flooding. In 2003, they stopped the removal of decorative surface rock from High Knob.

The coalition also halted plans for a 30-mile ATV Trail on High Knob, took part in the revision of the Jefferson Forest Plan, stopped a prescribed 1,200-acre burn and reduced the size of several timber cuts. Members continue to monitor active timber sales.

In 2005, the volunteer-driven coalition partnered with Virginia Save Our Streams to mobilize a Citizens Stream Monitoring Program, and received a $40,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to do trail work on the Chief Benge Trail.

“We do over 100 hours of trail work annually,” said TCC Associate Director Steve Brooks, “and welcome anyone who is willing to help.”

At the same time, TCC initiated the High Knob Naturalist Rally. The 10th annual rally will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24 at High Knob Lake, which is located just below the new High Knob Tower. Different regional experts will present their knowledge of wildlife and nature while participants experience the diversity of High Knob first-hand. The event is free, includes parking and lunch, and will feature presentations on raptors, bats, reptiles, wolves and mussels. Hikes will cover mushrooms, wetlands, edible plants, salamanders, birds, tree identification and more. Canoeing, geocaching, fly tying and children’s programs will also be available.

TCC also holds a Film Festival during Earth Week at U.Va.-Wise, and an annual EARTH Awareness Essay/Art Contest in public schools in Wise, Scott and Lee counties. Students submit entries based on a theme like this year’s “Why Are Forests Important.”

Additionally, the non-profit works closely with national community-based organizations like Trout Unlimited, The Wilderness Society and The Nature Conservancy.

TCC has 16 members on its board of directors, an advisory board of nine, two on staff, and over 100 general members. The board meets the second Tuesday of each month and anyone may attend or join the coalition in its promotion of sustainable forestry.

TCC is supported by membership dues and grants along with help from “various community organizations, government bodies, and individual citizens.” For more information on The Clinch Coalition, its events or how to get involved, visit www.clinchcoalition.net.

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