‘Concerned About Self-Bonding, Top Federal Mining Regulator Wonders About Collusion’ FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享By Benjamin Storrow in the Casper Star Tribune:The top federal mining regulator expressed “grave concerns” with the country’s coal reclamation program on Wednesday and openly questioned whether states and mining firms were colluding to avoid their cleanup obligations.Joe Pizarchik’s comments represent a notable escalation in the debate over self-bonding, or coal companies’ unsecured cleanup liabilities. The director of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has kept a low public profile since questions began to mount last year over mining firms’ ability to pay for reclamation.But in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Pizarchik said a wave of bankruptcies called the self-bonding program into question. Self-bonded companies are allowed to post their assets as collateral on future reclamation costs, provided they can pass a financial stress test.Two companies, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, notably retained their self-bonding status in Wyoming right up until they filed for bankruptcy.“People are concerned whether disturbed coal mines will be reclaimed by the bankrupt companies, whether the bankrupt companies will use bankruptcy court proceedings to abandon their legal obligations to restore the land and water, whether the cost to restore the land and water will be shifted to taxpayers, and whether the existing regulations are adequate to protect people, society and the environment from the adverse effects of coal mining, as was envisioned by Congress when it enacted (the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act) nearly 40 years ago,” Pizarchik said.Self-bonding has emerged as a national issue in recent months, as mining firms filed for Chapter 11 and environmentalists voiced concerns about companies’ ability to pay for cleanup.Yet it is arguably most pressing in Wyoming, the country’s top coal mining state, where three bankrupt mining firms have a combined $1.6 billion in self-bonds…..Pizarchik, in his remarks, did not single out any state for criticism. But he did applaud states that have transitioned away from self-bonds.In 2014, Texas required a subsidiary of Luminant Mining to replace $1.01 billion in self-bonds with cash bonds. Colorado regulators last month required Peabody Energy to provide replacement bonding for $27 million in cleanup costs.“Why were the states like Texas and Colorado successful in getting replacement bonds from bankrupt companies, and other states did not,” he said. “Was there any kind of collusion, malfeasance out there? I think the public needs to know the answers to those questions.”Full article: http://trib.com/business/energy/concerned-about-self-bonding-top-federal-mining-regulator-wonders-about/article_f5f5565a-2a8b-52e9-8d4f-c68d28f76c39.html
A Coal CEO Backs Trump But Doubts His Understanding of the Industry FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Taylor Kuykendall for SNL:With early-choice candidate Ted Cruz out of the picture, Murray Energy Corp. founder and CEO Robert Murray is pivoting his support to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, though he thinks he may need to temper recent promises to return coal to its glory days.Murray expressed his support for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee at the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance annual conference May 23. He said he based his opinion on a recent meeting with Trump in which the two discussed energy policy.Murray said he did feel the need to curb Trump’s enthusiasm in at least one way.“He wants to bring the mines back and I told him that was not possible,” Murray said. “I explained to him that mines are a living thing and that they cave in. They flood and you can bring a new mine back in that reserve, but now you have the capital cost that renders the mine noncompetitive in the energy mix.”Full article ($): Coal CEO backs Trump, but warns against promising mines’ return
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享International Business Times:While still struggling to remedy widespread power outages and destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rican government is working to restructure its debt. Insurers of those debt bonds, on the other hand, are at risk of having to pay out billions, and potentially taking a hit to their bottom lines — an outcome they’re seeking to avoid through a campaign of lobbying and litigation.Ambac Financial Group, Assured Guaranty LTD and MBIA Inc., through its subsidiary National Public Finance Guarantee Corporation — all of which, for a premium, guarantee repayments to debt holders in the event of an issuer default — are collectively on the hook for upwards of $26 billion in Puerto Rican debt over the long term. In late September, as those on the island were just beginning to rebuild, the bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service called the storm a “credit negative for financial guarantors that guarantee the interest and principal payments on a significant portion of Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt obligations,” naming the latter two insurers as the most vulnerable.Assured Guaranty, which released its third-quarter results Friday, with Puerto Rican debt service exposure of $8.2 billion, warned shareholders in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that “economic activity in general and tourism in particular, as well as tax collections, are all expected to decline in the short term” in the U.S. territory, while “migration to the mainland is also expected to increase.” The company’s $431 million in losses for the first nine months of 2017, the filing said, “was primarily attributable to Puerto Rico exposures.”In its second- and third-quarter filings, released Tuesday, MBIA specifically named the island’s debt problems as a likely cause of “losses or impairments on a greater number of the Company’s insured transactions.” Ambac, in its second-quarter report, bluntly informed shareholders that its Puerto Rico losses could exceed $1.6 billion.Under Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the Commonwealth already filed for bankruptcy in May, but the storm forced the board created by the law to revise its budget to accommodate for larger expenses and smaller revenues, which is bad for the bond insurers. As the capital markets research firm Height Securities LLC put it in an Oct. 31 report on Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation, “a 23 percent reduction in expected budgetary improvements would effectively erase PR’s ability to service any debt.” Immediately after the end of a freeze on creditor litigation under PROMESA, the Commonwealth faced a spate of lawsuits over its debt and budget restructuring, including two suits from Ambac, which also sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In total, Ambac racked up nine Puerto Rican debt-related litigation efforts by June 30, according to its second-quarter SEC filing.The conflict stemmed in part from the Puerto Rican government’s plan to funnel sales taxes, meant to back so-called COFINA bonds, to its general obligation debt. MBIA — which, along with Ambac, Height named as especially in danger of substantial losses because of relatively larger COFINA exposures — and Assured Guaranty were also among the litigators, but withdrew their suit in the wake of Maria’s devastation. Holders of COFINA debt known as the COFINA Seniors Coalition, led by the Tilden Park Capital Management LP, GoldenTree Asset Management LP and investment advisory firm Whitebox Advisors LLC, have been locked in its own legal battle with officials and general obligation debtholders.According to Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the legal fight is bound to continue.“There’s going to be a lot of lawsuits going back and forth; it’s going to be a lot of fun for the lawyers,” he told IBT. “The optimal outcome for the insurers is a kind of grand settlement where everybody agrees to take less and the insurers take out a little less.”The insurers aren’t just taking their concerns to court, but to Congress as well.The Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., through the firm BGR Government Affairs, provided Congress with “strategic advice and counsel on issues regarding Puerto Rico’s economy” during the third quarter, according to federal lobbying forms. Through the lobbying firm Mercury, the National Public Finance Guarantee Corp., a subsidiary of MBIA that handles the country’s Puerto Rico exposures, lobbied Congress on “Puerto Rico Debt Reform” and laws affecting the island’s debt restructuring over the same period, federal lobbying documents show.In the second quarter, Assured Guaranty paid the firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP $300,000 to lobby Congress and the Treasury Department on “legislative proposals impacting Puerto Rico,” while the COFINA Seniors Coalition, via two lobbying firms during the first quarter, advocated for its interests related to the “Puerto Rico economic crisis” before Congress and the Treasury. The law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, on behalf of Ambac, enlisted Harbinger Strategies LLC — and its team of four former GOP staffers, including two previous chiefs of staff to Republican Whips — to lobby on “issues related to Puerto Rico’s economy and debt” and the implementation of PROMESA during the last quarter, federal lobbying files show.The firms and COFINA Seniors all either declined or did not respond to requests from IBT for clarification of their desired outcomes.Whatever their objectives, they ought to have seen the crisis coming, Sanzillo said, flagging a Moody’s report that showed all four of the rating agency’s municipal defaults in 2016 were related to the Commonwealth.“This makes Puerto Rico an extreme example of correlated risk within a single credit family that not only includes [general obligation bonds] but extends to lease and revenue debt,” said the report, from late June of this year. “The number of rated municipal defaults will more than double in 2017 if the various Puerto Rico credits now entering court-ordered resolution are restructured with bondholder losses or otherwise default.”More: Puerto Rico Crisis: Bond Insurers Fight To Avoid Paying Claims Puerto Rico Bond Insurers in Lobbying and Litigation Campaign to Avoid Paying Claims
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Sydney Morning Herald:Australia’s backing of the fossil fuel industry is expected to come under more scrutiny at the Bonn climate talks in Germany, as a global effort to reduce coal use gathers momentum.Britain and Canada were expected to launch the Global Alliance to Power Past Coal at a Thursday media conference aimed at phasing out consumption of the high-emissions fuel.The alliance was expected to announce nine more nations would sign up to the group, including Italy, France, Mexico and Finland, an at least one African nation, Reuters reported.The Marshall Islands, one of the alliance members, stepped up its criticism of Australia’s policies, with its President, Hilda Heine, saying every nation should seek to end burning coal to prevent dangerous climate change.“We are very disappointed, I would say, in Australia because we are neighbours to them,” President Heine said on Wednesday, adding that Canberra was well aware of the threat facing low-lying nations in the region.“So we hope that maybe a new government can come in and change the position of the current government, which is continuing to promote coal,” Dr Heine said.Adam Bandt, the Greens climate spokesman who is attending the Bonn conference, said Australia was emerging as one of the chief blockers at the talks.“Instead of joining with other developed countries to announce a coal phase-out, Australia has aligned itself with [President Donald] Trump’s US in a coalition of coal huggers,” he said, adding the Marshall Island’s call for a change of government was “unprecedented”.“The only praise Australia has received at this summit has been from a coal baron, brought out by Trump’s US team, who lauded the Turnbull government for ‘putting coal back on the table’.”Tim Buckley, a director of the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, said nations like Marshall Islands were not likely to have much choice in campaigning against fossil fuel use.“They’re facing an existential threat to their country,” he said. “It’s not like they are trying to get a trade advantage.”Mr Buckley also pointed to this week’s release of the World Energy Outlook 2017 by the International Energy Agency that had quietly cut estimates of coal demand out to 2040 by 5.1 per cent.While the cut is not huge, the agency’s repeated underestimates of renewable energy’s expansion meant its coal demand would likely be too optimistic.The IEEFA, for instance, expects global installations of new solar energy to be 50 per cent higher – at more than 100 gigawatts in new capacity – than the IEA is predicting for the annual uptake of 73 GW for the next five years.More: Call for a change of Australia’s government as anti-coal alliance gains momentum Australia’s Energy Policy Comes Under Global Scrutiny
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Bloomberg:Greece is preparing to auction 2.6 gigawatts of solar and wind projects to attract investment and beef up the Mediterranean country’s clean-energy credentials.“From now on renewable energy production and prices will be determined by competitive tender process,” said Energy Minister George Stathakis. The “move should encourage investments in renewable energy of 2.5 billion to 3 billion euros, especially in wind.”The government published the final rules for its first competitive tenders, which outline the timeline and size of the projects that will awarded. The first tender will be held July 2 and will hand out permits to build 300 megawatts of wind power and 300 megawatts of solar photovoltaics. The shift to auctions from feed-in-tariffs follows a move most renewable markets have made.Greece is known for its sunshine, a key driver of its tourism industry, but it also has good wind resources. Like all European Union members, it has a legally-binding clean energy target and is aiming for 18 percent of energy consumption to be from renewable by 2020.The country will tender 300 megawatts apiece of wind and solar annually from 2018 to 2020 and will also hold two auctions for 400 megawatts that will pit the two technologies against one another, starting in 2019. Total capacity procured will be 2.6 gigawatts, about the equivalent of two nuclear reactors.More: Greece Kicks Off $3.6 Billion Program for Solar, Wind Projects Greece to Seek 2.6 GW of Solar, Wind Development
Tallest U.S. Wind Turbine Installed in Texas FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享North American Windpower:Goldwind Americas has completed the installation of its GW 3MW(S) Smart Wind Turbine test unit at the UL Advanced Wind Turbine Test Facility at West Texas A&M University.The scalable, 3 MW test turbine has an assembled hub height of 130 meters and a blade tip height of 199.2 meters, making it the tallest wind turbine in the U.S., Goldwind claims. Developed by Goldwind, the onshore GW 3MW(S) prototype features a rated capacity of up to 3.57 MW and a rotor diameter of 136 meters. “The installation of Goldwind’s 3S prototype serves as an important milestone for Goldwind Americas and its global strategy to commercialize Goldwind’s turbine technology in the U.S. and abroad,” notes David Sale, CEO of Goldwind Americas.The turbine was officially launched in October 2016 at the China Windpower Exhibition, and a prototype was grid-connected in China in January 2017. The Texas installation is the first prototype Goldwind has installed and tested outside of China. The U.S.-based prototype will be fully commissioned this month, when testing will also begin.Reinhard Sander, vice president of engineering and technology for Goldwind Americas, adds, “The newest model in Goldwind’s portfolio of turbines continues to push the technology envelope and define what is possible in the wind industry. This allows our customers to maximize project economics with a larger nameplate design at a greater hub height, while benefiting from the scalability and adaptability of the 3 MW-plus platform.”More: Goldwind Installs 199.2-Meter Wind Turbine In Texas
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Richmond Times-Dispatch:A massive solar farm proposed in western Spotsylvania County has cleared one hurdle, but it has a few others remaining.In a filing Wednesday, the State Corporation Commission signed off on Utah-based Sustainable Power Group’s Pleinmont Solar LLC proposal to build an outdoor facility with 1.8 million solar panels.Microsoft Corp. plans to buy a significant amount of the energy produced from the planned solar power project, which is expected to be the largest solar farm in Virginia and one of the largest on the East Coast.In giving its conditional approval, the commissioners stated that the company bears the risk and must abide by regulations, which include paying for system upgrades to avoid potential impacts to rate-payers and adhering to environmental oversight.Sustainable Power Group, also known as sPower, hopes to have the first phase of the solar-generating plant running by next June, according to documents filed with the state. But the proposal first has to meet several requirements.The 500-megawatt solar facility would be built in phases, eventually taking up a total of about 3,500 acres on the 6,000-plus-acre site.More: Largest solar farm in Virginia clears important hurdle Virginia regulators okay 1.8-million-panel solar PV facility
Set-top boxes in the U.S. consume 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to the annual output of six coal-fired power plants. Part of the reason is that they typically operate at nearly full power even during the two-thirds of the time when they are not in use.Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that cable and other pay TV boxes that sit atop television sets consume massive amounts of energy, in part because they are always on, even when the TV is off?— Sam Winston, Metarie, LAWe hear a lot about how much energy modern day flat screen TV sets consume, but the innocuous set-top boxes that drive them, along with their built-in digital video recorders, may be even more to blame. A recent analysis conducted by the consulting firm Ecos on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that “the average new cable high-definition digital video recorder (HD-DVR) consumes more than half the energy of an average new refrigerator and more than an average new flat-panel television.” Overall, set-top boxes in the U.S. consume some 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equal to the annual output of six average (500 megawatt) coal-fired power plants and accounts for the emission of 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.Part of the reason these boxes are such energy hogs is that they typically operate at nearly full power even during the two-thirds of the time when they are not actively in use driving TV screens or recording to built-in DVRs. “As a nation, we spend $2 billion each year to power these boxes when they are not being actively used,” reports NRDC.To make matters worse, American consumers have little if any choice about which set-top boxes they get from their cable or satellite service providers. Since the providers usually own the boxes yet don’t have to pay consumers’ electric bills, they have little incentive to utilize or develop more efficient models. In Europe, Sky Broadcasting is beginning to distribute more efficient equipment to subscribers there. NRDC is urging the largest pay-TV service providers in the U.S. (Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon and AT&T) to heed the efficiency call with their own set-top box and DVR offerings.Redesigning set-top boxes to power down when not in use is perhaps the biggest opportunity for energy savings. “Innovation to reduce power consumption when not in active use—such as has occurred with mobile phones, which also work on a subscriber basis and require secure connections—is sorely needed in set-top boxes,” counsels NRDC. Also, re-jiggering content delivery systems so that only one main set-top box sends signals to all the televisions in the house (or to lower power “thin client” boxes) could also cut down household electric bills and carbon footprints. The group adds that “better designed pay-TV set-top boxes could reduce the energy use of the installed base of boxes by 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020.”Last year the U.S. government released new energy efficiency standards for set-top boxes within its EnergyStar appliance efficiency rating program. While this new specification is a step in the right direction, consumers have little knowledge about such options. NRDC urges pay-TV subscribers to request that their providers make available set-top boxes and DVRs that meet the newer EnergyStar 4.0 standards. The more of us that request such improvements, the likelier they are to happen. And the cable or satellite provider that can save customers money while reducing overall environmental impact may just win over an increasingly large sector of the American people that actually cares about being green.CONTACTS: NRDC’s “Better Viewing, Lower Energy Bills, and Less Pollution,” www.nrdc.org/energy/files/settopboxes.pdf; EnergyStar, www.energystar.gov. EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: [email protected] Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
From monsoon rains to the norovirus, this year’s Appalachian Trail thru-hiking season was one for the records. The stories of struggle and success have swept across the Blue Ridge, from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin in Maine. But while these sagas were still in the making, one hike in particular was setting a new record: the first thru-hike of the Great Eastern Trail.Meet Joanna Swanson and Bart Houck, or Someday and Hillbilly Bart if you encounter them on the trail. They are the first thru-hikers of the roughly 1,600-mile long Great Eastern Trail, which connects a series of preexisting trails and stretches from Flag Mountain, Ala. to the Finger Lakes of New York. With a lesser overall gain in elevation and a shorter length than the Appalachian Trail, the Great Eastern Trail rivals its Appalachian counterpart with a different set of challenges which, for Swanson and Houck, began even before they set foot on Alabama soil.I said ‘Hell No’Despite growing up in Willow River, Minn., Swanson was well acquainted with the opportunities for adventure on the East Coast. During two separate hikes in 2009 and 2010, Swanson successfully completed a southbound section hike of the Appalachian Trail. When she returned home, she realized those months on the trail had fostered a gnawing restlessness within her that could only be satisfied by embarking on another adventure.“I was looking for a trail experience,” Swanson says. “I came across the AmeriCorps website and they were looking for an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer in Mullens, W.Va. working for the Great Eastern Trail. I’d never heard of it,” she says, but that fact didn’t seem to faze her. She applied, was accepted, and moved to West Virginia in November of 2011.Mullens, W.Va., is home to just over 1,500 people including Houck, who was born and raised in the small coal-mining town. Houck always considered himself an outdoorsman, although he came to know West Virginia’s mountains and forests through a different lens than Swanson.“I’ve always hunted,” Houck says, “or, I’ve always ‘hiked with a gun.’”Swanson and Houck met through their involvement with the local TuGuNu Hiking Club, a relatively new group of outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to bring more than ATVs and hunters to West Virginia.“One day I showed up at his house with bacon and a case of beer and he let me stay,” Swanson says, nudging Houck.The idea to thru-hike the Great Eastern Trail did not occur to Swanson until she was nearly a year into her service with AmeriCorps. Her duties primarily involved building official miles of the trail in West Virginia which, when she arrived, were nonexistent. In July 2012, Swanson realized that West Virginia was the part of the Great Eastern Trail that was logistically the most difficult, but for her was the section she knew best.“I knew it wasn’t a trail I wanted to do alone,” she says. “So, I asked Bart if he would come with me.”“And I said ‘Hell no. You’re crazy,’” Houck says. “When I had done all the planning,” Swanson continues, “when I had all the resources, bought all the guidebooks, he decided that was a good time to reconsider.”After nearly 10 months of planning and hundreds of hours of collaboration with the Great Eastern Trail’s board of directors, Swanson and Houck finally set out on their journey in January of 2013. Unlike either of the Appalachian Trail’s terminals, the trailhead for Flag Mountain, Ala., is not nearly as well-established, tucked away in a one-horse-town known as Weogufka (wa-guf-kah): population, 282. Houck’s brother drove the two to the trailhead, and though both Houck and Swanson came from humble hometowns, the Alabama backwoods proved to be a far cry from home.“Along the way we stopped in this little town that had absolutely nothing but one convenience store,” Houck says. “We walked inside and asked the lady, ‘Can you tell us where Weogufka is?’ She said, ‘Weogufka? Honey, that’s way back in the sticks.’ I said, ‘Honey, we are in the sticks. How much stickier is it gonna get?’”Fortunately, Swanson had arranged to meet up with two trail angels who would help them find their way to the Pinhoti Trail, the first built trail of the journey. These two hiking enthusiasts would prove to be the first of many supportive followers that Swanson and Houck would encounter during their five-month trek.“Our experience really snowballed as we went along,” Swanson says. “In Alabama and Georgia, we were mostly flying under the radar.”“But the further we went, the more legitimate we became and the more we decided that this trail is bigger than both of us,” Houck says. “We decided to slow our trip down and become ambassadors for the trail.”Almost Dead in an Alabama SnowstormAlthough Swanson and Houck began their thru-hike in the middle of winter, the weather in the South remained relatively mild. As they approached the northern parts of Alabama though, the once-pleasant rain took a dangerous turn.“It had been raining for days and everything we had was wet,” Houck says. “We had 13 miles to go in order to make it to Cheaha State Park. The further we went up, the more it started sleeting.”Houck decided they should put on rain gear for some added protection, although by now he and Swanson were both completely soaked and still wearing shorts. They continued hiking, thinking the weather would break, but as their body temperatures continued to drop so too did any hopes of sunshine and clear skies.“Then it started snowing,” says Houck. “Then it started really snowing. Then it started blowing snow. The blazes on the trees were covered. Thirteen miles doesn’t seem very far until you’re stopping at every tree.”Despite their slow pace, Swanson and Houck had only one option and continued on, trudging through deep snowdrifts and squinting against the wind for any trace of a blaze. Houck periodically lost sight of Swanson and would wait for her to catch up before carrying on, but he remembers one time in particular when it took her longer than usual to make an appearance.“I couldn’t wait long because I had to keep moving,” he says, so he walked back, hoping to find her a short distance behind. She was not close, however, and when Houck came upon her, she was nearly naked with her shirt stuck up above her head.“I was kinda like the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz,” says Swanson, “except I was frozen solid. I couldn’t move.”In an effort to replace her drenched clothes with warmer layers, Swanson says the freezing cold had quickly sapped any remnants of mobility. Her skin began to redden and chap from the icy air, and Houck knew that their situation was quickly worsening.“I helped her get dressed and told her we had to keep moving,” he says. “We played mind games to keep our mental clarity.”“I led us off the trail, downhill,” says Swanson.“Twice,” reminds Houck, “but you never heard me complain.”Finally, the two arrived at Cheaha State Park to find that the situation there was equally as dire: the park was closing and its employees were being sent to a nearby hotel to wait out the storm.“I slapped my credit card down so fast,” Swanson says, “I didn’t care. I was just thankful there was still one room left.”After shedding their soggy clothes and devouring a hot meal, Houck took to humor to relieve some of the tension.“I turned to Jo and said, ‘You realize that you’re from Minnesota, you lived in Alaska, and you just about died in an Alabama snowstorm? That’s the only reason I kept you alive. Nobody would have believed me.’”Although Swanson and Houck were not injured from their prolonged hike through the miserably wet and bitterly cold, the two decided to take a zero day to regroup and relax.“You know what we did on our day off?” Houck says. “We went for a hike.”Wash, Rinse, Repeat“One of the biggest challenges was putting up with each other,” Swanson says.Unlike the social scene that accompanies the thousands of Appalachian Trail hikers, Swanson and Houck were alone on their thru-hike of the Great Eastern Trail.“It’s a lot to handle, being with one person for five months,” says Swanson.“The monotony of everyday living is hard, too,” says Houck. “You pack up your stuff in the morning, hike for 10 hours, unpack…”“Wash, rinse, repeat,” says Swanson.Although both have extensive experience living with and off the land, they opted for the quick and easy when it came to backcountry meals.“Who was the cook? Let’s see, Food Lion, StarKist, Peter Pan,” Houck says. “At first I had made a beer can burner that was really lightweight, but it didn’t work very well in the wind. I abandoned that idea pretty quick.”With cool weather on their side, Swanson and Houck packed everything from cheese to meat. Because of their frequent road walks and town crossings, the two were resupplying every three to four days.“My luxury item was beer,” Houck says. “Cheap beer.”By the time Swanson and Houck arrived near the Great Eastern Trail’s terminus in Finger Lakes, N.Y., they had grown from two individuals with a common interest to a well-oiled hiking machine. The thru-hiking duo had acquired a number of fans through their GET Hiking blog, which they updated throughout their trip with photographs and thoughts from the trail. All eyes were on Someday and Hillbilly Bart as they embarked on the final miles of their hike.“We knew there would be some friends and different media outlets who would join us for the last mile of the hike,” says Swanson. “On the last day, we hiked about five miles before we came to the road crossing where everyone was waiting.”“We sat there in the woods alone and listened to car doors slam,” says Houck. “We ate our lunch alone, which was very fitting.”“We needed that time before sharing it with other people,” says Swanson.Radio stations, television reporters, friends, and trail volunteers joined Swanson and Houck at the endpoint, a shelter in New York known as the Moss Hill Lean-To. After an hour of socializing and taking pictures, the two were left alone again for their final night in the woods.“We could have gone somewhere to take a shower and everything, but we decided no, the last night on the trail was going to be spent on the trail,” says Houck.Bringing Back the FutureBeing the first to accomplish something is never an easy task, especially when it involves being the trailblazers for a trail that’s not even technically complete. According to Swanson, the Great Eastern Trail is currently over 70% finished with fewer miles of road walking than what Earl Shaffer encountered when he first hiked the Appalachian Trail.Swanson and Houck agree that the real challenge of the trail will be getting it finished, particularly in West Virginia. Mullens, Houck’s hometown, is located in Wyoming County and is conveniently the halfway point along the trail. Though the hiking community in Wyoming County is growing, Swanson and Houck say it’s not enough to get the Great Eastern Trail established in its entirety through the wild and wonderful state.“We need an organization that can make deals with landowners and represent the cause,” says Swanson. “One new hiking club is not old enough, strong enough, to do something like that.”Pocahontas Land Corporation, a company that manages natural resource properties, owns most of the land in Wyoming County but has shown support of outdoor recreation through its interactions with the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail system.“The Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority is a pretty big organization with a very strong board of directors and strong leadership and a very good insurance policy,” says Swanson, “and that is what the hiking community is lacking. We don’t have the funds to do it.”“We have to garner a state authority to serve as a go-between the hiking club and the Pocahontas Land Corporation,” says Houck. “Their concerns need to be on the table as well.”Though the development of full-fledged state parks seems highly unrealistic, Swanson says that many trails along the Great Eastern Trail are, in and of themselves, considered linear state parks.“That’s not a foreign concept,” she says. “We’re trying to work with the Wyoming County Commission to see if we can get a pilot section of trail built where there’s a gap. West Virginia will continue to be the hardest state logistically for at least the next decade, but that doesn’t make it impossible. It can be done.”West Virginia has had a long history of economic success fueled by natural resources, but according to Houck, its coal-mining towns are withering and their economies struggling to stay afloat.“If you want to create an environment of economic growth, you can’t depend on something that’s going to die,” he says. “Beauty in the mountains is never going to die unless you outright kill it. I think the natural beauty of trails and recreation can bring West Virginia into the future.”The future for West Virginia’s acceptance of the trail seems positive thus far. Pocahontas Land Corporation has expressed interest in opening the dialogue between hikers and landowners. Should the Great Eastern Trail be officially established in West Virginia, its route would go through five different communities. Four of those five communities have already signed a town agreement in support of the trail.“This trail has the potential to bring in so many tourism dollars,” says Swanson.“If West Virginia lets this go, it will be a very big disappointment,” Houck says. “That’s one of the reasons I hiked this: to show that it can be done.”The board of directors for the Great Eastern Trail has backup plans to reroute the trail through Virginia, bypassing West Virginia entirely save for a small section near the northern end. This, says Swanson, would be a great setback, since one thing that makes the Great Eastern Trail different from the Appalachian Trail is its route through the Mountain State.“There’s such a great hiking culture in the East that another long trail should be welcomed by everyone,” she says. “We’re not trying to take away the glory of the A.T. It’s its own unique trail.”“I think the Great Eastern Trail is also different in that it links a lot of trails that already exist,” says Houck. “They are smaller in and of themselves, but linked together they make a ‘great’ trail.”Swanson and Houck say the overall highlights during their experience was not any particular view or wildlife sighting; it was the overwhelming support they received from the various trail volunteers, club presidents, and trail angels.“These people are active all the time,” says Houck. “They aren’t just a name in a pamphlet.”What words of wisdom and knowledge can Someday and Hillbilly Bart provide?“Know your limits,” says Houck. “Start out small. Plan, but be flexible. You can create and accomplish goals so easily out there. Each day is a goal, each state is a goal.”Houck said the best part of the journey was waking up everyday to go hiking.“It’s also really cool to be yourself,” he says. “To be able to enjoy yourself by yourself is really important.”Swanson agrees. “I think people have gotten disconnected from their natural world,” says Swanson, “so it was nice to feel the miles and know the miles.”Hillbilly Bart & SomedaySomeday: I got my trail name on the A.T. I was in New Hampshire hiking southbound and I still hadn’t received a trail name. I was complaining to the guy at the hostel saying, “someday I’ll climb up these mountains without huffing and puffing, someday I’ll do this, someday I’ll do that…” I had a whole list. He looked at me and said, ‘I think you have your trail name.’Hillbilly Bart: I took the alternative route and named myself. It seemed appropriate. Everyone at home calls me that. It was good too, even to bust a lot of stereotypes about what a hillbilly is.What is its geographic coverage?The 1,600-mile trail passes through nine states: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.Which preexisting trails are connected to form the GET?Alabama-Georgia Pinhoti Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, Cumberland Trail, Pine Mountain Trail, Allegheny Trail, Bluestone Turnpike Trail, Mary Draper Ingles Trail, Tuscarora Trail, Headwaters Section, Green Ridge State Forest, Standing Stone Trail, Mid State Trail, Crystal Hills TrailHow long will it take to hike? 4 to 6 monthsWho thought of the idea?Earl Shaffer, the first Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, wrote of the idea in a letter to his brother, circa 1948. Originally referred to as the Western Appalachian Alternative, the trail finally received its rightful name in 2007 when the Great Eastern Trail Association was formed.Is there a guidebook? Yes, but it is a work in progress. Consult greateasterntrail.net or Swanson and Houck’s blog, GEThiking.net, for more information.
This month’s Instagram Takeover features North Carolina-based photographer and trail running fanatic Brandon Thrower—AKA @bttrailrunner. Brandon can usually be found criss crossing the trails of Western North Carolina, particularly those in and around the Linville Gorge area. When’s he’s not capturing the beauty of the Southern Appalachian landscape around him with his camera, he’s competing in competitive trail runs and sometimes directing them. He also uses his Instagram account to document his affinity for Western North Carolina beer and passion for home brewing. If you’re looking for daily inspiration and some great tips about exploring the WNC mountains @bttrailrunner‘s account is a must follow. Check out some of his shots below.“Running in the Linville Gorge is extremely tough and demanding, but oh so rewarding. Recognizable from so many angles across the region, Table Rock in the Linville Gorge holds a special place in my heart, as I am sure it does for many who live in Western North Carolina. This iconic peak also offers one of the best views in all the Blue Ridge.”“The Swannanoa Rim, which includes the massive summits of Graybeard and Blue Ridge Pinnacle, also contains a fun little bump between the two called Rocky Knob. This small open rock face offers up 270 degree views of the Great Craggy Mountains and the ever undulating Foothills as they fall off to the Piedmont. A fun and rewarding scramble mid run.”“Probably the easiest hike in all of the Linville Gorge, the short trip out to Pinnacle still has some of the best views along the rim of this famous ditch. We decided to stop and catch the sunset from its rocky summit on a family camping trip last fall and it did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to capture this shot as the sun was falling behind Bald Knob and was lighting the autumn leaves aglow.”“Max Patch is just one example of the many wonderful high mountain balds we have in North Carolina. All across the western part of the state, especially along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, you’ll find many like this, but I think this one takes the cake for best views.”“If you find yourself in the Wilson Creek Area of Pisgah National Forest, then you must go to Little Lost Cove Cliffs and witness the best view you will find in the entire area. Some friends and I had fun exploring the cliffs and checking out the monstrous views of Grandfather Mountain and beyond.”“For the past few years near my birthday, I’ve had friends join me on a complete traverse of the entire Black Mountain Crest, which is the highest ridgeline in all of the Appalachia’s. The ridge boast 10+ peaks over 6,000 ft in elevation and numerous other 5,000 ft peaks along the way. We start early each year to catch the sunrise from the bald between Celo Knob and Mt Gibbs and it never disappoints. The shadow of this monstrous range is cast far into the Cane River Valley below.”“North Carolina is home to many of the highest mountains in all the Appalachians, but one subset of ranges that is often overlooked is the Amphibolite Range in the extreme northwest part of the state in Watauga and Ashe counties. With seven mountains topping out over 5,000 ft in elevation and all separated by deep gaps and valleys, the mountains here feel much larger. Three Top Mountain might be the most impressive of them all though, especially if you enjoy to scramble.”[divider]Q & A With Brandon[/divider]BRO: What is your current home base and where are you from originally?BT: My wife and I are currently in the moving process and heading to Morganton, NC. We are both really excited about the move and we love the town. We have lived just down the road in Hickory for the past few years and have really enjoyed our time there as well though. I originally grew up in a small town of the central Piedmont called Randleman. BRO: How long have you been trail running? BT: I actually didn’t start running at all until I was 20, but around that time I was getting ready to transfer to Appalachian State and was drawn to the mountains and the trails. I started running short and easy local park trails to get in shape for backpacking trips and eventually I just began to run my backpacking trips in a few hours instead. Trail running definitely opened up the door to explore the many trails of the High Country region on a daily basis and still be able to make it to class the next day.BRO: Outside of trail running, what is your favorite outdoor activity?BT: Trail Work! It is so important to give back to our trails and help to keep them sustainable for future generations and the health of our environment. I wish I could get out more and help all the great groups that do this unseen work by many, but when I’m available and there is a workday within a reasonable distance of the casa, I try to be there to help out. BRO: What’s your favorite town in the Blue Ridge?BT: Man, that is a tough question. There are so many awesome towns in the region that all provide their own unique flavor. That being said though, I’m really partial to my new home base of Morganton and my rambling college abode of Boone. Both of them have really fun downtown vibes, great breweries and eateries, and they have been the jumping off point of so many of my adventures. I know that is two towns, but lets just call it a tie. BRO: How did you get into photography?BT: I started shooting on film back when I graduated high school with an old SLR I got one Christmas. I think my love of taking photos of inspiring landscapes is what drew me to the mountains in the first place. With it being film though, it got really expensive for a college kid to develop the photos and buy film on a regular basis. That coupled with the fact that a SLR is not the easiest thing to lug around, especially on long trail runs, I just started taking mental pictures there for awhile. That was until smart phone camera technology became more advanced, especially in the past few years. Almost all of my trail running pictures have been taken on an Iphone. I can easily carry it in a small pocket in my running pack or handheld water bottle and once I see something that inspires me, I put one of my friends running through it in a picture.BRO: How long have have you been shooting?BT: Wow, I guess I’ve been shooting off and on for about 10 years now. My current obsession with capturing trail running didn’t start until about three years ago. BRO: If you could only choose one area in this region to hike, explore, and photograph for the rest of your life what would it be?BT: I think I am in that region now. From our new home in Morganton, I can explore the looming Black Mountains, the depths of the Linville Gorge, the numerous waterfalls of the Wilson Creek Area, the high mountain balds of Roan, the small but equally beautiful South Mountains, and the High Country in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain all within an hours drive or less. I think I’m where I’m supposed to be. BRO: One piece of gear (minus your camera) you wouldn’t head into the woods without?BT: My Ultimate Direction AK Vest is pretty much an essential tool for me when exploring vast mountains and trails with little chance of resupply. It allows me to carry all I need without being bulky and heavy. BRO: Favorite trail in the Southeast/Mid-Atlantic?BT: Man, another tough question. Narrowing things down to one thing is difficult for me if you haven’t yet realized, but I think I’d have to go with the Black Mountain Crest Trail. That trail is so extremely diverse and amazing, it is almost unfathomable. It is also one of the most difficult trails in the region, but that usually means fun times are ahead. Related Content: