Protecting History and Nurturing Economic Development in Benham and Lynch, Kentucky By Mary Hufford

America’s environmental laws guarantee its citizens the right to participate in public conversations about alternatives to large-scale development projects.  Yet too often, when, as citizens, we exercise this right to participate in the visioning of futures for our communities, we are labelled “activists,” accused of threatening the jobs that come with environmentally destructive forms of extraction such as clear-cutting, fracking, and mountaintop removal mining.  We have a right to engage public conversations that consider the long-term costs and benefits of alternative pathways to development. To insist that these conversations take place is nothing less than patriotic.

Citizens of Benham and Lynch, in Harlan County Kentucky, have stepped forward to hold their representatives accountable to beneficiaries, past, present, and future, of Eastern Kentucky’s world-class public trust of fragile, forested, mountain ecosystems. They have identified resources on which they are already building alternative pathways to development. These historical, cultural, and ecological resources with economic potential are likely to be greatly diminished in value by strip mining in proximity. We support the citizens’ demand for an honest and thorough look at alternatives to extreme extraction that nurture and sustain human communities throughout the Central Appalachian region. As it stands, this requirement, though set forth explicitly in Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, has not been met.


Citizens of Benham and Lynch, partnering with the Kentucky Resources Council, have filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition.  If you would like to support their petition, you can write to:                                                                                                                                                                  Jeff Baird, Director, Division of Mine Permits                                                     300 Sower Boulevard, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601                                                                                The period for public comments is open until April 30, 2019.

Sarah Billings

Recently,  Dr. Maldonado and the LiKEN Research Assistant (RA) team based out of University of California, Santa Barbara,  met to discuss progress regarding all of the ongoing projects such as the Land Study in collaboration with Dr. Deborah Thompson. I have been mostly working on the Land Study for the past few weeks. In preparation for the land study project, Hannah Ornellas and I, as part of the research team are reviewing the software required to help code interviews conducted for the land study. We are learning different ways to use it and researching its capabilities. We are working on familiarizing ourselves with the intricacies of the software so that we can optimize its utility in helping organize and understand the study. By assigning specific numbers to words in a systematic way, we will be able to observe trends in the data and further our knowledge as a team. I really look forward to continuing with this project and seeing the final outcome because I find it very interesting to understand how communities feel as a whole, and by conducting and dissecting interviews,  it is a really good way for us as researchers to find out qualitative details about the sentiment of the communities. In conjunction with that, Dr. Maldonado, Hannah and I have a meeting with Dr. Thompson to discuss the Land Study and exchange ideas on how to exactly code the interviews. I look forward to the next meeting and moving along further in the project!



Stories of Place at the Capitol

LiKEN’s Stories of Place project was featured on Tuesday, February 12 at an event in the Kentucky State Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, sponsored by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). Sheldon Clark High School Students from Allison Leip’s English classes and Christin Roberson’s Air and Space science class presented posters illustrating their documentation of stories of elders in Martin County and a trip to map favorite fishing holes in and around Petercave Lake. More than 400 students from 22 school districts in Eastern Kentucky participated.

Stories of Place students and faculty on the steps inside the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda. 

Photo by Mary Hufford

During the day, Sheldon Clark students presented their projects to Kentucky legislators Rocky Adkins and Chris Harris. Throughout the spring, students will be continuing their documentary research in order to produce podcasts, videos, and updated maps featuring Martin County’s special places.

Brandon Matthew, shaking hand of Kentucky State Delegate Chris Harris, who stopped by to meet the Stories of Place students and faculty and learn about their projects.

Photo by Mary Hufford.

KVEC videographer, interviewing Andrea Davis about her Stories of Place Poster, based on her interview with Remona Ward Estep. 

Photo by Mary Hufford.

Stories of Place in Martin County, a project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network in partnership with the University of Kentucky, is co-directed by Mary Hufford and Karen Rignall, with funding from the Whiting Foundation.

“Stories of Place Project: Martin County, Kentucky leads the Way”

By Mary Hufford, Director for Stories of Place

“Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities”

The Stories of Place Martin County team, photographed during a field trip to  Appalshop in Whitesburg. Photo by Willa Johnson

In August, with the support of a Whiting Fellowship awarded to Karen Rignall (faculty member with the Community and Leadership Development program of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment ) LiKEN launched its Stories of Place program at Sheldon Clark High School, in Inez, Kentucky. As director of LiKEN’s Stories of Place program, I have been working with Karen Rignall, project coordinator in Martin County, Ricki Draper, a fellow with the Highlander Institute, and Sheldon Clark faculty members Allison Leap (English) and Christin Roberson (Science). Our community advisor is Nina McCoy, who formerly taught biology at Sheldon Clark High School.  Twenty high school sophomores gather each week for Stories of Place meetings. They are developing the skills needed to conduct documentary interviews with elders in the community. They are also learning GIS mapping skills, and in the spring they will meet with Willa Johnson, of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, for training in editing and producing podcasts.

Nina McCoy, Ricki Draper, and Mickey McCoy reviewing a map of Martin County that is
used during Stories of Place Meetings with students. Map courtesy of Aaron Guest.
Photo by Mary Hufford.

Thinking of Stories of Place as applied narrative ecology, we approach “place” as an ecosystem  that depends on the stories we tell for its ongoing renewal. What are the environmental and social conditions that sustain storytelling in our communities? And how does storytelling nurture environment and society together?  Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities. Our curriculum introduces students to the unique legacies of the mixed mesophytic forests of the region, as they identify and explore landscapes and histories shaped by more than a century of coal and timber extraction.  Through discussions of the work of Appalachian writers and filmmakers, students learn to tell the stories of their communities. On the way they meet with and learn about key figures and institutions in the region’s cultural history, including a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg in October, and an upcoming visit from Gurney Norman, who grew up in the coalfields of southwestern VA and eastern KY, and who from 2009 – 2010 was Kentucky’s poet laureate.

Stories of Place students locating their homes and special places on a map of Martin
County during the first meeting. Photo by Allison Leip.

Poster at the entrance to Sheldon Park High School advertising Stories of Place. Twenty

sophomores signed up. Photo by Mary Hufford.

Talking with community partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as with members of Indigenous communities in Western U.S., we hear a persistent refrain: Distracted by technologies of the digital age, we pay less attention to our local surroundings, and to the  communications between young people and elders that strengthen communities of land and people. Stories of place uses digital technology to address both rifts, and to engage youth and elders in planning for the future of their communities.