Powell River Project Research and Education Center
Most of Powell River Project's field-based education activities take place at the Research and Education Center (REC), at the headwaters of the Powell River in southwestern Virginia's Wise County. This facility occupies 1,100 acres owned by Penn Virginia Resource Partners LLC. Penn Virginia personnel assist in management and maintenance of the facility.
Figure 1. Location of Powell River Project Research and Education Center (REC) in Wise County, Virginia.
The Powell River Project REC is a unique educational resource which attracts visitors from throughout Virginia, other parts of the U.S., and overseas.
Coal mining has been occurring at the Education Center site since the 1950s, and a variety of surface mined lands exist. These include pre-1970 mined areas where little reclamation was originally performed, areas mined in the 1980s using standard reclamation practices, lands reclaimed using experimental reclamation techniques developed through research, and active mining. Portions of the tract remain covered with upland Appalachian hardwoods. Other areas are in various stages of plant succession, depending on when they were disturbed and how they were reclaimed. This wide variety of plant communities and landforms makes the area ideal for educational programs.
Research at the Education Center
Mine reclamation research conducted by Virginia Tech faculty at the site enhances the educational experiences of site visitors. The findings of research conducted at this site have had a profound impact on mine reclamation practice.
Research on use of topsoil substitutes was initiated on this site in 1981. The research results have been incorporated into reclamation practice by many Appalachian coal-mining firms. The original research plots, which remain in existence today, continue to yield useful information on disturbed-area nutrient cycling, long-term productivity, and plant succession. The topsoil substitute plot is believed to be the longest-running replicated and continuously monitored reclamation research site in the country.
PRP-sponsored reforestation research at the Education Center began in 1980 and continues today. Mine reforestation techniques developed through this research are being used by the coal industry in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio as well as Virginia. PRP’s reforestation research program has developed reforestation methods which reduce reclamation costs, improve regulatory compliance, and increase post-mining timber productivity in comparison to conventional mine reforestation. The current research emphasis is reforestation with hardwood species.
A number of experimental mine-reclamation methods have been pioneered and demonstrated at the Education Center site. These include the landform alteration mining technique used at the "Amos Ridge Experimental Practice", a demonstration of the potential to create new, more-productive land forms through mining which was conducted Amos Ridge Coal between 1984 and 1988. Red River Coal Company utilized similar landform reconstruction procedures in a re-mining operation which improved the land use potential of several hundred acres in the mid-late 1980s. Approximately 150 acres were reclaimed using composted sewage sludge in 1989 and 1990; today, these areas are productive pastures. Currently, Red River Coal Co. is mining and reclaiming lands adjacent to the REC for future use as pastures; mine reforestation experimental and demonstration sites have also been established on the acreage being mined and reclaimed by Red River Coal.
In addition to hosting research, the PRP Education Center site is used for educational programs; these vary from informational to technical in nature.
One of the most popular informational programming efforts is conducted jointly with local offices of Virginia Cooperative Extension - the 4-H Outdoor Classroom. These programs are designed to help students better understand the components of wildlife habitat, to become familiar with native plants and animals commonly found in the region, and to see first hand how scientific research relating to land utilization is conducted and applied in the field. The Outdoor Classroom program takes place on reclaimed coal-mine lands at the Education Center.
Technical training is also conducted at the PRP Education Center, using two basic formats. Technical workshops and field tours for mine reclamation professionals are held in conjunction with ongoing or recently completed research. These presentations provide technical information to individuals who apply research results in their work. The PRP Education Center is also made available for state and federal agency training. U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and the Virginia Department of Forestry have used the site for technical training. These agencies found the site to be an ideal training location due to the convenience of having a number of reclamation research and land use practice demonstrations in a single location.
Visitors from Around Virginia and Around the World
The site has hosted visitors from around the country and around the world. Visitors from throughout the USA, as well as China, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, England, Denmark, New Zealand, Brazil, Ukraine, and Guatamala, have visited the Powell River Project Research and Education Center.
Visits to the Powell River Project Education Center site can be arranged by contacting Extension Agent Amy Gail Fannon in the Wise County Extension Office, email@example.com School groups are especially welcome. Additional information about Powell River Project can be obtained from Carl Zipper at Virginia Tech, (540) 231-9782. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).