KAYFORD, W.Va. -- Dozens of activists planted trees on a Kayford Mountain mine Sunday in protest of mountaintop removal coal mining.
More than 50 people from Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero showed up to the Patriot Coal Corp.-owned mine for the non-violent protest, including politician and long-time mountaintop-removal opponent Ken Hechler and U.S. Senate Mountain Party candidate Jessie Johnson.
"I want to see social justice in the state of West Virginia and the nation," Johnson said. "I want to see environmental justice in the state of West Virginia and the nation."
Hechler, a former congressman and secretary of state, put his support behind Johnson's senate campaign two months ago, after an unsuccessful bid for the senate seat in the recent special primary. At the rally Sunday, Hechler continued to endorse Johnson.
"[Johnson] is the only candidate running who is in favor of these God-given mountains," Hechler said. "The other candidates are cheerleaders for mountaintop removal."
Both Johnson and Hechler gave a short speech about mountaintop removal and Johnson's candidacy before walking with the crowd of protesters to the mine site to plant the trees.
The 96-year-old Hechler, flanked by Johnson and other supporters who helped him stay on his feet, led the way down a rocky trail to the site.
About 20 protesters carried hemlock, walnut, red oak, and tulip poplar sprouts. They planted them into a hill on top of the site while the rest of the crowd watched from about a half-mile away on property owned by Larry Gibson, another activist.
John Johnson, one of the leaders of the demonstration, said he picked tulip poplar because it is the state tree of his native Tennessee.
He picked hemlock because their roots help keep streams clean, he said.
In mountaintop removal, coal operators use explosives to blast off entire hilltops and uncover valuable low-sulfur coal reserves. Leftover rock and dirt is shoved into nearby valleys, burying streams.