Kentucky: Citizen’s against Mountain top removal get kicked out of former Boy Scout Camp Blanton

Two groups that oppose mountaintop removal coal mining have been told they are not welcome to hold meetings at a former Boy Scout camp in Harlan County. Jim Scheff of Kentucky Heartwood said his group called in May to reserve Camp Blanton for a gathering, called the Heartwood Forest Council, this Memorial Day weekend. The other group, Mountain Justice, scheduled the camp for several days leading up to the holiday weekend.

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Harlan County is deep in Kentucky’s eastern coal fields, and coal mining is central to the local economy. Douglass, the attorney, said that several board members have ties to the industry. Scheff estimated that by canceling the two events, the camp lost $10,000 to $15,000. Camp Blanton covers 10 acres near the trailhead of Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve, the largest stand of old-growth forest remaining in Kentucky.

Grover and Oxie Blanton, who refused to sell their timber, gave the camp to the Boy Scouts. Formal ties with the Scouts ended in 1988, when several local residents and former scouts formed the Camp Blanton Trust. On Memorial Day weekend, 200 to 300 people from the eastern United States were expected for the 19th annual Heartwood Forest Council.

The group also met there in 2000 and 2003. It is now booking Camp McKee near Mount Sterling for this year’s gathering, Scheff said. Many people who travel across several states for the annual meeting have a special attachment to Camp Blanton and Blanton Forest, he said.

“While there is still an easement to allow public access to Blanton Forest, this decision by the Camp Blanton Board of Trustees means that we are no longer allowed to gather as a group in that place and enjoy the forest together,” Scheff said.

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Comments (2)

More info...March 10th, 2009 at 2:55 pm

If Eastern Kentucky wants to promote tourism, the directors of Camp Blanton in Harlan County have an odd way of showing it.

The camp, which is near the Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve’s trail head, abruptly canceled the reservations of two environmental groups that had been planning to hold annual conferences there.

Hundreds of people from all over the Eastern United States would have traveled to Harlan County, spending money but, more important, going home to tell others of the magnificent old-growth forest, the clear water, amazing rock formations and the mountain family who preserved it all.

They might also have carried home information about Pine Mountain, the Cumberland Gap, Breaks Interstate Park, the Country Music Highway, Butcher Hollow, J.D. Maggard’s Cash Store, the Carcassone square dance or the Mountain Arts Cente
Instead, word will go far and wide that the coal bosses still run Harlan County and don’t tolerate anyone speaking against them.

A member of the Camp Blanton board would say only that the board had pulled the reservations because it didn’t want to involve the camp “in the kind of controversies” in which the environmental groups are involved, an apparent reference to opposition to mountaintop removal mining.

Well, here’s a news flash: The kinds of tourists who drive for hours to walk in the woods, watch birds, sleep in a tent or cast a fly probably aren’t going to be big fans of blowing up mountains and burying streams.
Rejection of outsiders and their ideas is nothing new in the coal fields. It reminds us of when idealistic college graduates, inspired by RFK, LBJ and Harry Caudill’s writings, wanted to come to Eastern Kentucky to teach, but were rejected because they had no kin who could vote in school board elections.

In a way, the action by the Camp Blanton board makes the environmentalist case better than any protest: As long as coal keeps its death grip on Eastern Kentucky’s politics and economy, nothing else will have a chance to succeed or maybe even get started.

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