Catskills to Appalachia: Trailer Talk travels

Sabrina Artel discovers a shared sense of concern at the true costs of energy extraction


UPPER DELAWARE REGION — When Sabrina Artel towed her vintage 1965 Beeline trailer 1,300 miles roundtrip from Liberty, NY to Kayford Mountain, KY to attend the Mountain Keepers Music Festival and witness what has happened there in the process of energy extraction, she was not prepared for the question her host, Larry Gibson, had for her. “He asked, looking me directly in the eye, ‘what in my life do I hold so dear that I’d die protecting it?’”

The answer for activist Gibson is the 50 acres that he and his family have lived on for 230 years.

Kayford Mountain is one of the last mountains remaining in an area decimated by coal extraction in a process known as mountaintop removal (MTR), which has resulted in the destruction of people’s homes and the ruination of their lives.

What lingers in Artel’s mind are the parallels she began to see between events in Kentucky and those occurring in the Upper Delaware region related to natural gas and oil speculation.

The connection first occurred closer to home, when Artel traveled to the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Dingmans Ferry, PA to conduct interviews for “Trailer Talk,” an initiative she describes as “a live performance, a community event and a radio broadcast.”

At PEEC, Artel was covering an event organized by The Homestead School, a Montessori elementary school located in Glen Spey, NY, which had invited Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation ((, to share his experiences, after students from the school began to understand how their electrical consumption ultimately impacts the lives of people in faraway places like Appalachia.

Following an interview with Gibson inside the cozy confines of her trailer, the MTR activist invited Artel to bring her trailer to his family’s land and the coalfields surrounding Kayford Mountain, 33 miles south of Charleston, WV for a first-hand look at MTR over the Independence Day weekend. To make the trip possible, Homestead students made and sold bracelets, weavings, homegrown painted gourds and other items on Artel’s behalf. “That kind of direct action and engaged education was heartening,” Artel said.

Artel was eager to attend the gathering, also a family reunion, where citizen activists and environmental groups celebrated on the threatened mountaintop. Learning about mountain culture and its history, which is interwoven with the coal companies, presented an opportunity to learn about the coal industry, energy companies and Artel’s connection to it all.

Once there, she found a certain resonance with an issue closer to home—the gas drilling speculation that has swept the once-peaceable rural communities on both sides of the Upper Delaware River and stirred intense controversy.

Before departing for Appalachia, Artel took her trailer to talk with people attending a gas drilling forum in Liberty conducted by Catskill Mountainkeeper. “Catskills residents shared their fear, their concern and their frustration at being faced with a sense of inevitability about the presence of gas wells,” said Artel.

“I heard some landowners share that they felt they had no choice because they need the money or they believe that nothing harmful will be done and that legally they’ll be protected. Visiting the coalfields of West Virginia was proof that the energy companies will do what it takes to profit, so it’s up to us to protect our land, and thereby our future. Kayford Mountain was a reminder that we need to stick together, and not allow the energy companies to divide us.”

In Kayford, Artel interviewed activists, a former Massey Energy company employee turned anti-MTR activist and Gibson’s family members, who shared stories about growing up on the mountain, their lives as coal miners, fear of the future and the need to make a living.

“Larry’s home is encircled by the MTR. I didn’t understand what that really meant until he took me to the edge between his vibrant, albeit threatened and damaged property (toxic coal dust, explosives, flying boulders, damaged water table, destroyed wildlife corridors and habitat) and I looked out over the miles of flattened mountains,” said Artel. “Seeing the dozers and trucks hauling away the mountain and extracting what seems like bits of coal compared to the vastness of what’s been destroyed, was, and still is, overwhelming. It was in actually being there on the edge between life and death, the living and the destroyed that I have begun to understand the true cost of our energy consumption.”

The devastation has resulted in the destruction of 450 mountains and numerous impacts to water, air and the health of residents. “The fight of the concerned citizens to save their homes, their history, their lives and the mountains that give them life is monumental, heartbreaking and an outrage,” said Artel. “I saw how a personal battle against MTR has become a larger movement to find renewable energy and a more sustainable way of living. I saw how concern, advocacy and compassion intersect when truth is being spoken. I also saw the toll it’s taking on them and how much we really all do need to work together as citizens to protect our lives from the corporations who show no regard for us.”

Hear Artel explore the true costs of energy extraction and our connection to it during the Trailer Talk conversations to be broadcast on WJFF Radio Catskill and by Podcast. Visit for more information.

Contributed photo by Donna Binder  
Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain, KY is interviewed by Sabrina Artel of Liberty, NY as they survey the ruined landscape surrounding Gibson’s home due to mountaintop removal practices related to coal extraction. (Click for larger version)

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