Powell River Project

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.



Figure 2. Two Views of Powell River Project Research and Education Center

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.

Mined land 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 throughput Appalachia. The Powell River Project's reforestation research program has developed reforestation methods which reduce reclamation costs, improve regulatory compliance, and increase post-mining timber productivity of post-mining forests.

In addition to hosting research, the PRP Education Center site is used for educational programs; these vary from informational to technical in nature. Education programming is conducted by Virginia Cooperative Extension personnel. 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. Technical training is also conducted at the Research and Education Center.

Figure 4. Students from local schools visiting Powell River Project Education Center.

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.

Figure 5.
Coal industry and regulatory agency personnel discuss research with VirginiaTech faculty, at Powell River Project Education Center.

Visits to the Powell River Project Education Center site can be arranged by contacting Extension Agent Phil Meeks in the Wise County Extension Office, pmeeks@vt.edu. 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: czip@vt.edu).