Upper Tennessee River Roundtable celebrated the grand opening of the Stone Creek Outdoor Classroom and Community Park in April 2014 following a nearly four-year project to transform this former coal tipple site in Pennington Gap. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided funds from the Natural Resource Damages Assessment and Restoration settlement to the Roundtable to purchase the land and transfer ownership to Lee County. Funds came from a 1996 coal slurry spill in the Powell River watershed. The Roundtable secured additional funding for the project, which cost $216,125 to complete. Located along Straight Creek in the Stone Creek Community, this site once served as a transfer station where trucks delivered coal to be loaded onto rail cars.
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and Daniel Boone Soil and Water Conservation District led the next step to reclaim the land. This phase included removing coal loading structures, an old office building and debris as well as capping the site with two feet of soil and sowing seed. Following reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stabilized the stream bank to prevent further erosion from the site. DMME estimates that the project will keep about two tons of sediment a year out of Straight Creek. The Service also led the creation of a wetlands planted with native species.
The Roundtable collaborated with many volunteers and project partners for the last phase of the project to create an outdoor classroom and park. A grant from Keep American Beautiful and Lowe’s helped create a walking trail, decorative pavers made by the community, split rail fencing around the site, benches made from recycled plastic bags, and a parking lot in front. The outdoor classroom features eight learning stations with educational signage. To complete the transformation of the site, 150 trees and 150 live tree stakes were planted.
Other funding contributors included Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, LG&E KU Plant for the Planet, Appalachian Coal Country Team Reforestation Initiative, Tennessee Valley Authority, Lone Mountain Processing and Upper Tennessee River Roundtable. Many other in-kind donations included chestnut trees from the American Chestnut Foundation, recycled park benches from Trex ®, pizza boxes from Pizza Inn of Abingdon, housing for an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps from Appalachian Service Project, and other in-kind services from Appalachian Sustainable Development, Verizon, Norfolk Southern Railroad, Old Dominion Power Co., Vaughn and Melton Consulting Engineers, Virginia Fuel Corporation and Virginia Department of Transportation.