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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 12 

Powell River Project given award by mining industry hall of fame for outreach and research

December 22, 2015

Carl Zipper receives a statuette of a Daniel Boone-looking man.
Professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences Carl Zipper (right) accepts the Prazen Award on behalf of the Powell River Project Research and Education Center from Vince Matthews, consulting geologist at Leadville Geology and member of the National Mining Hall of Fame board of directors.

BLACKSBURG — The Powell River Project Research and Education Center was recently honored by The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum for its decades of work on restoring and reforesting mined lands. The center received the 2015 Prazen Living Legend Award.

“The Powell River Project Research and Education Center is to be recognized for its 35 years of outstanding stewardship to Appalachia,” Frank McAllister, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said in a news release.

Located in Wise County, Virginia, the Powell River Project Research and Education Center is a 1,100-acre site owned by long-term research sponsor PVR Partners L.P. and has been studied by Virginia Tech researchers since 1980. Over the years, a cadre of interdisciplinary scientists from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and others working at the site have broken new scientific ground on everything from forestry and soil reconstruction to water quality and the creation of wildlife habitat.

“The research to reclaim surface-mined lands has been advancing over the years to new levels and offering more hope to bring these lands back to sustainability,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment and chairman of the Powell River Project’s board of directors. “We have a far greater understanding of what works and what does not work, and we can share this knowledge of how best to restore disturbed lands across the globe so reclaimed lands can function on a level that is productive.”

The award is given to an individual or company or project that has demonstrated an on-going commitment to educate the public on the importance of the minerals and mining industry. Carl Zipper, director of the Powell River Project and professor of crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences accepted the award on behalf of the center.

“The industry, Virginia Tech, and groups within the community of Wise County have known the value of the research conducted at the Powell River Project for years,” said Phil Meeks,Virginia Cooperative Extension agent with the county. “It’s encouraging to see that the knowledge generated from this site reaches farther than our own corner of the world, and its impacts are recognized on a national level.”

The project engages researchers who have made scientific contributions that concern mine soil development, re-establishment of native Appalachian forests on reclaimed mines, mine water quality management and treatment, and many other topics.

A major initiative of the project is the initiative known as the Forestry Reclamation Approach. This attempt at reclaiming forestlands has resulted in concrete examples of how mine reclamation has been successful in creating sustainable habitats for vegetation and animal populations.

Each year, hundreds of people visit the center to learn about mining, reclamation, and environmental protection on Appalachian coal mines. Since Powell River Project's beginning more than 50,000 visitors have participated in educational programs at the center. These visitors have included K-12 school students, teachers, college students, natural resource agency and industry personnel, agriculturalists who work on mined land properties, political figures and others. Educational programming has been conducted in cooperation with PVR and with the mining company that operates near the site, Red River Coal.

“The children who visit the site today will be the decision-makers of tomorrow,” Meeks said. “They’ll be the ones who continue with the charge of making reclaimed lands both ecologically and economically productive.”

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