Volunteers (enough of ‘em) = Victory

By Julian Martin and Mae Ellen Wildt

(Yes, we are both Blackwater Summer volunteers)

The three secrets to a successful Blackwater Summer are volunteers, volunteers, and volunteers? Not very original, but very true!

We would like to have volunteers distributing information and gathering signatures on the Save Blackwater Canyon petition at locations every weekend all summer. The response so far has been excellent -- we have nearly fifteen hundred signatures from eight events in only three weeks.

Who are the active volunteers so far? Zeth Zajac, for one, responded to our call in the Voice for volunteers. We sent him a box of materials, and he is going to spread the word at boating events. Sharon Dalton has volunteered for the Canaan Valley Annual Celebration of the Arts on July 4. Sharon has also done some editing for us. Then there is Scott Frame from near Jane Lew,who helped at Newsweek’s mountain bike race at Timberline. Scott has volunteered to help again at the Fayetteville Heritage Festival on July 3, and at the State Fair on either August 15 or 22.

Auda Cottrell and Julia Lucas came from Morgantown and helped at the Nongame Wildlife Weekend at Blackwater Falls where Auda wore the costume of Blackie the Northern flying Squirrel. The next day at the mountain-bike race, Auda was joined by Mollie Elkinton dressed as Sally, the Cheat Mountain salamander. Blackie and Sally, both threatened species in the Blackwater Canyon, attract a lot of attention, and people love to

have their picturers taken with them. Bob Coffee was also busy at the race, pushing for petition signers. In the afternoon, Scott Frame and Tom Skergan continued gathering signatures, and Tom even put on the squirrel costume. Over the weekend, 260 people signed the petition. Almost everyone we approached wanted to sign. Scott said people were even asking to sign during food breaks! People are visibly shocked when they see

photos of the logging in the canyon.

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Volunteers helped next at the United Methodist Annual Conference in Buchannon. A resolution sponsored by the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) was introduced to the conference to urge the state to acquire the Canyon. We worked together on all the resolutions proposed by the MFSA. We helped and got help from fellow MFSA members Andy Ragland, Jeff Allen, Linda Ann Ewing, John Taylor, David Schumate as well as Larry Gibson and Janet Fout. One-hundred twenty persons from the Conference signed the petition. We handed out leaflets at the dining hall, and made the delegates very aware of the plight of Blackwater Canyon.

The Conference voted to suspend the rules and let non-delegate United Methodist John Crites, owner of Allegheny Wood Products, speak. Mr. Crites said twice that he was only going to "cut a few trees." The Conference finally voted to refer the resolution to the Board of Church and Social Concerns. Rev. Ed Tutwiler, chairman of that board, opposed sending the matter to his committee because "the logging will continue for a whole year before we can take it up again."

Mr. Crites defines the issue as being just a matter of responsible forest management. He argues that he is doing a good job. By timber industry standards, that may well be true – he has awards from other loggers attesting to their approval of the quality of his work. His record is not the issue. We don't want the canyon to be a wood factory. We want the entire Blackwater Canyon to be untouched by any more logging or mining or condo developments; we want the bulldozers and chainsaws out of the canyon forever and ever, amen. We do not, under any circumstances, want the Blackwater Canyon to be an industrial production facility. Mr. Crites intends to cut trees and bulldoze roads on 800 acres this time around. From his public utterances, he gives the impression that the canyon will be bulldozed and logged on a regular basis from now on.

The Mountain Stage Concert on Sunday, June 14, drew hundreds of young fans of the Squirrel Nut Zipper. Ninth graders Marie Slater and Sara Davis were Blackie and Sally as we distributed information prior to the performance. They thought it was fun, especially maneuvering the tails as they walked. Volunteers were busy distributing information and handling the stampede of theater-goers signing the petition -- 240 in little more than an hour! The young people saw the logging picture and typically uttered "that sucks" or "that blows." We were surprised to find veteran volunteers Mollie Elkinton and Bob Coffey waiting to get tickets. They jumped right into the thick of signature gathering again. Carter Zerbe and Jonathan Escue were also a great help during the rush.

At the Glenville Festival, volunteers came to our aid again. Roger Besselievere stuck with us all day, and his wife, Carol Ross, recruited Eric Squires and Becky Clark to be Blackie and Sally. They really enjoyed their work and even got into the parade carrying the big "Save Blackwater Canyon" sign. We garnered 218 signatures on the petition at this event, and Roger kept some petitions and fliers to continue spreading the word.

We marched in the Gay Pride parade in Charleston on Sunday with the contingent from Asbury United Methodist Church, and gathered signatures at the ensuing festival at the Capitol ground before going to the Mountain Stage Concert. There we were joined by volunteers, Sandy Fisher and Bruce Perrone. By the end of the day, we had an additional 160 signatures on the petition, and two new volunteers.

In Summersville the Music in the Mountains festival was fertile ground for Blackwater Summer. All told 153 people signed on from noon until 4pm on Friday the 26th. With more volunteers I think we could have gotten about everybody there.

Today, Sunday the 28th we will be at our third Mountain Stage concert.

Most people we approach sign the petition. Our experience is that, once given the facts, people are eager to sign. When people see the sign, "Save Blackwater Canyon," they are curious. When they see the picture of the canyon logged and chopped up they are disgusted and angry; and become eager to sign the petition. People really do want to help -- they're very concerned with the damage being done to the environment, drawing on, in many cases, personal experiences near their own homes.

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Maybe you know of some event near you or that you plan to attend. Maybe you could volunteer some time. Please let us know, and we will get information and supplies to you and, hopefully, some other volunteers to help you. It is really fun doing this because the response has been so positive. Become a volunteer; it's fun, and, as that northern flying squirrel, Marie Slater, said, "It is worthwhile." _