When you climb out of the tent this morning, there is a blanket of snow on everything. How beautiful! The sun is shining and although the air is cold, you know that by noon most of it will have melted and the mountain people will shed their heavier clothing and seek refuge from the sun.
At 14,767 feet (4,500 meters) you've reached the elevation where the high-altitude porters take over. While this exchange is taking place, you mention to one of the guides that you are amazed at how many useful plants there are in the mountains. He tells you that this is nothing compared to the way it used to be. Most of the people you've seen collecting plants are herdsmen who travel up and down the mountainside checking on their livestock. Local collectors either use the plants themselves or sell them in the local market.
You are amazed at how many useful plants there are in the mountains. The fact that plants like ginseng are rare is a reminder, though, that the variety of useful plants available in the mountains today is nothing like what it used to be. Traditionally, most collectors were local people who harvested enough for their families. Sometimes they would gather additional plants to sell in the local market. In recent years, however, there has been increased global demand for natural products like medicinal herbs. This has brought outside collectors to the mountain.
When you step out of your tent, the rain-soaked landscape reminds you that a storm blew through camp during the night. It's a little cloudy out, but the sun is already trying to break through. Before long the rest of your teammates are awake and you gather around the fire, eating toast with butter and drinking hot tea. Now that you know a little bit about the people of Blair Mountain and have seen their natural landscape, you begin to think about the relationship between the two. Do these mountain people use the natural resources found on Blair Mountain to survive?
Mountain logging site. Photo: Library of CongressYou've just been fortunate to witness the incredible diversity of plant life on Blair Mountain. Unfortunately, many of these plants are in danger. In addition to the threat of mountaintop mining, these plants are threatened by logging, agricultural practices, and tourist activities. These threats exist because people have discovered the vast resources-from fun to wood-that mountains have to offer and they are taking advantage of them.
The Appalachians. Photo: TMIAfter weeks of planning and preparation, your expedition is finally going to begin. First you land at Logan County airport in Ethel, West Virginia. After renting a car, you drive 20 miles to the town of Hetzel.
Hetzel, the closest town to Blair Mountain, is where you will spend a day making final preparations for your expedition.
Overview: Students begin their expedition by investigating local and mountain biodiversity and exploring the environmental threats and conservation measures related to the biodiversity of these two areas.
Objectives: To become familiar with local native plants through the investigation of and comparison to native plants in the mountain environment.
Water makes life on the planet not just livable, but possible. All organisms are utterly dependent on it for survival. Our bodies are 80 percent water. It covers three-quarters of the Earth's surface, but only 3 percent of that area is fresh water (the rest is oceanic salt water), and more than half of that is in the form of ice.