LEE COUNTY, Va. - Since the late 1970s there have been strict laws surrounding reclaiming coal mining sites in the region.
There has been funding available to restore abandoned operations, but there is no money available to reclaim mining related sites that weren't involved in the actual removal of the coal.
Thanks to help from the community, the old Rand Osborne Coal Tipple Yard along the Powell River in Lee County, Virginia has now become an outdoor classroom and community park.
A passing coal train is a reminder of better days for the industry as it passes Lee County's newest park. That coal history is not forgotten at the park, which is a designed outdoor classroom.
The transition from an old coal yard to environmental learning center has taken time and innovative ways of paying for it. "It took so many years to get the funding, but we finally got it. The actual project took almost going on four years to finish," said Carol Doss with the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable.
Some of the money and help with the project came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a settlement of a coal slurry spill years ago. "It was the perfect site, the site of an identified contributor of sediment to the Powell River watershed. We thought it was a good potential restoration project," Anne Condon with the service says.
Other agencies joined in since the site fell through the cracks as far as getting funds for restoration.
Once the site became available, the wheels started turning. "It's a fitting project. The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to look for innovative ways to reclaim abandoned mine land features without the use of the Federal Office of Surface Mining grants," Richard Davis with the department said.
The project has been a total community effort, designed so that when families visit they learn about not only their surrounding environment, but the history behind it. "We want the kids to come and study various topics, but to remember where we came from," Doss said.
There are 10 learning stations surrounding the new park.
The coal operations ceased at the site 11 years ago.