Story and photographs by Dave Cooper
The Dawkins Line Rail Trail, in Johnson and Magoffin Counties in the Eastern Kentucky mountains, officially opened in June – but many have not heard about it. This 18-mile-long trail is a little gem: It’s Kentucky’s longest rail trail, it’s in a beautiful and remote area, it’s very peaceful and quiet, and it is in pristine condition.
The trail is quite beautiful in spots, and it’s a low-key and enjoyable ride that is suitable for families and even small children.
The trail surface is finely crushed gravel, so most cyclists will probably want to ride their mountain bikes. Any tire over 1.5 inches diameter would probably be OK, but thin road bike tires will sink into the gravel. Bikes with front suspension are also recommended, as this trail has some sections with a mild washboard surface.
The trail is open to hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, but closed to motorized vehicles including four-wheelers, ATVs, motorbikes, etc.
I think this trail would also be fine for a day of low-key hiking or just walking the dog. The first section, travelling westbound from US 23 at Hager Hill, is fairly unremarkable. It’s pleasant but not especially beautiful. The trail passes homes and the outlying areas of Paintsville. Past Swamp Branch (Mile Point 8), there is a gradual uphill grade that is barely noticeable and the trail enters the woods.
About 5 miles past Swamp Branch the trail crosses over KY 114, the Mountain Parkway extension between Salyersville and Prestonsburg. The trail passes through Ivyton, then ascends to the 662-foot long Gun Creek Tunnel.
After the tunnel (MP 15), the trail gradually descends to Royalton (MP 18) in Magoffin County. There are plans to extend the trail from Royalton for another 18 miles through the community of Carver and through another impressive tunnel at Tiptop into Breathitt County. The trail would be 36 miles long when completed.
The people who built the Dawkins trail did a good job. It seems to be well-engineered for safety. There are 24 attractive wooden trestles built atop the old iron railroad bridges, and the signage at road crossings has been done well and thoughtfully. However, “wayfinder” road signs are needed on the major regional highways, especially US 23/460, to make more people aware of the trail and to direct them to the trailhead.
Patty and I first explored this part of Magoffin County about five years ago while testing stream water quality in Eastern Kentucky. I noticed then that the old railroad bed was being used by four-wheelers as a public trail. But both times I have ridden the Dawkins Trail I have met a park ranger on patrol. He says there have been very few problems with crime, four-wheelers or trail users trespassing on adjacent land. The trail remains pristine; I saw no litter or vandalism. Local officials seem to be doing a great job keeping the trail safe and family-friendly.
It is advisable to print the trail map (link below) before heading out on the trail. Trail users should be advised that there are no stores, shelters or even bathrooms along the trail, and should plan to bring water and snacks. However, there are two small stores at the west end of the trail in Royalton that sell sandwiches, ice cream, soda and snacks. I expect there will be more services offered as more Kentuckians begin to use the Dawkins trail.
I well remember riding the Little Miami Rail Trail near Loveland, Ohio (north of Cincinnati) when it was first opened to the public in the 1980’s: It was only 13 miles long, from Loveland to Morrow, not many people used it, and it lacked amenities. But over the last 30 years, the state of Ohio has remained committed to the project, and added 60 miles to the trail, plus rest stops and bathrooms and parking areas as trailheads. Local communities and civic groups have built picnic shelters, trailside parks and playgrounds, and ice cream and bike shops have sprung up and thrived. Communities along the trail have embraced the 350,000 people who use the Little Miami Trail annually, and it has greatly added to the quality of life in these trail-side and surrounding communities, as well as promoting physical fitness for the whole family.
Kentucky has spent more than $2.5 million on the Dawkins trail, including $500,000 of coal-severance taxes. I think it was money well spent, with an eye towards building the future economy of Eastern Kentucky. We certainly need more green tourism and healthy recreational opportunities in Kentucky. The Dawkins Line Rail Trail at this time may be lightly used, but I don’t expect it will stay that way for long. As this trail becomes more popular, I hope it will encourage Kentucky to finance more bike trail projects. So go check out the Dawkins Trail, before it gets too crowded!
While you are in the Paintsville area, I recommend visiting the Loretta Lynn homeplace in Butcher Hollow near Van Lear. Just follow the signs from US 23. Loretta Lynn’s younger brother Herman Webb will be glad to give you a tour of the historic Webb family homeplace for a mere $5. This experience is delightful and unforgettable.
Another interesting area attraction is the Mayo Mansion in downtown Paintsville, the colossal 40-room home of coal baron John C.C. Mayo (1864-1914), who developed the “broad-form deed” that severed landowners’ mineral rights from their surface rights. The Mayo Mansion was completed in 1912, but Mayo died only two years later. The mansion is now a school called Our Lady of the Mountains.
Below are directions from Lexington to the easiest Dawkins Trail access point near US 23 in Johnson County. Visitors may wish to consult the Kentucky Gazetteer booklet of topographcial maps; on page 55, find Paintsville in the upper right of the page, then look for the intersection of US 23/460 and KY 825 just a few miles southwest of Paintsville. The old railroad line is marked on the map; it travels south and west into Magoffin County, then south into Breathitt County where it ends just past Evanston.
Directions From Lexington: Take the Mountain Parkway east from Winchester through Salyersville. Continue straight on KY 114 for two to three miles past the Salyersville commercial strip, then turn left on US 460 east, heading towards Paintsville. Travel on US 460 for about 13 miles and then turn right (south) onto US 23. Go 2.5 miles on US 23 south and turn right onto KY 825. There is a sign for the trail crossing, and visitors can park in a small pull-off space and start biking south and east for another 15 miles to Royalton. (Going the other way, the trail goes towards Hagerhill and Paintsville, following US 23, then dead ends in 2 miles). Another option is to continue driving on KY 825 for six miles to the main trail parking area, which is a large gravel lot big enough to hold two dozen horse trailers. From this point it is about 10 miles in a southwesterly direction to the end of the trail in Royalton. To learn more about the history of the trail and the Dawkins Lumber Company, or to download a PDF map of the trail, go to http://parks.ky.gov/parks/recreationparks/dawkins-line/default.aspx.
The public “knows we fought, but they don’t know us,” said Army Col. David W. Sutherland of the Dixon Center for Military and Veterans’ Community Services, decrying what he called “the epidemic of disconnection between the civil and the military. . . . The American people want to help, but they don’t know how.”
Before Christmas, we went to a local AT&T wireless store to replace my wife's cell phone. The clerk suggested we try their wireless receiver system for our home phone. Of course, it was supposed to be fantastic and give a 60 percent savings. It took 10 minutes to switch our land line to the wireless system, but when it proved to be unsuitable for us, it took over two weeks to reactivate our land line, and almost three months to straighten out the bill.
I've spent over a dozen hours on the phone, mostly waiting for a response, talking to people when available who, I am sure, do not live in the United States. I assume I have the bill straightened out; I have not yet received this month's.
Problems encountered: The clerk assigned my cell phone number to my wife's new phone, so in order to reach her, friends had to know my number, which I do not give out freely. So while we were traveling, I had no phone service, since my number was on her phone.
The first wireless gizmo he gave us turned out to be defective, and had been returned. He gave us a new one and said we could keep it, even if we decided to switch back, until the land line was reconnected. When I called to say we wanted to be switched back, he insisted that we bring the box back in immediately. So we were without a land line for two weeks.
As it turned out, our land number had been canceled, so I had to waste more time on my cell phone (which had now been corrected). I'm not sure that the public knows that the AT&T land line department, and their wireless department, are almost completely separate. I'm not even sure they speak to each other. If your land line is your primary account, you are billed at one time of month, while if your account is wireless, it's a totally different billing system. Again, they don't communicate well with each other.
With the wireless box, even though we can see the cell tower from our porch, every call was full of static. It also limited us to two phone plugs, and a maximum of three phones, unless we purchased an additional wireless base system. TIVO did not work with it, although someone said we could upgrade to a system that would work.
In short, we totally oppose giving AT&T the right to drop land lines. While we understand that it would mean great savings for AT&T, it would mean a loss of U.S. jobs, since line repairmen cannot be outsourced, but wireless tech support can. I spent three hours one night talking 'at' several different IT agents who gave me an American name, but spoke with an almost non-understandable Asian accent.
I remember when both AT&T and Kentucky Power had offices in almost every Kentucky county seat. Now AEP is headquartered in Ohio, and the two phone agents who were the most helpful told me they were in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. If you need serious repairs, teams have to come from out of state. With the mines laying off, there is an immediate source of jobs worth emphasizing.
Mr. Caudill wrote to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in response to a televised discussion of legislation that would allow telephone companies to replace land lines with wireless service.
Senate Farm Bill's redefinition of 'rural' could cut development funds for neediest areas
By Aleta Botts
What does a rural area look like?
The Senate Farm Bill proposes to streamline definitions of “rural area” in recognition of the varying definitions used by different programs and the criticisms attracted by such differences.
Unfortunately, the result of “one definition” for rural area could be less funding for the very areas that most meet what many Americans would consider the targeted recipients for these programs. And that problem could worsen under the definitions adopted by the Senate, which has increased the population limits for the areas considered “rural” for many programs.
Currently, the definition of “rural area” varies by Rural Development program. Rural water programs are allowed to go only to cities, towns, or unincorporated areas of fewer than 10,000 people. The limit for community facility programs (which pay for libraries, health centers, and many other community brick-and-mortar investments) is 20,000, while the limit for business programs is 50,000. If you live in an urbanized area surrounding a town of more than 50,000, you are not eligible.
The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill gets rid of all the lower population limits, setting a uniform population of 50,000 for determining what constitutes a rural place.
The differing levels attract a lot of criticism since many people reasonably believe that we should have a consistent definition of “rural.” However, just as it would be hard to argue that a rural area located in the oil fields of North Dakota has the same exact needs as a rural area located just outside an urbanized area in Massachusetts, it is hard to argue that all of these rural programs constructed to meet different rural needs should be bound by the same population limit.
A rural water program arguably is constructed around the notion that small rural areas do not have enough of a critical mass of people to provide the tax base and the user fees necessary to upgrade their water systems to meet public-health standards. With governmental support through loans and grants, those areas can continue to meet those standards.
By contrast, a rural business program arguably is constructed around the notion that if you provide governmental support for slightly larger areas, those areas will also help provide employment opportunities for smaller rural areas around them.
Additionally, looking only at the population limits, without looking at the demand for these programs, ignores a key factor in their workings.
The rural water program (limit 10,000) routinely receives more applications for its funding than Congress is able to provide. According to testimony by the National Rural Water Association in April, at the end of fiscal year 2011, more than 400 communities had applications in the pipeline without funding to support them. Those communities will fall in line for the next year’s funding, but the point is that this is an oversubscribed program and has been for years. If it is oversubscribed now with its limit at 10,000 people, what will result when the population limit is raised to 50,000?
A real fear of increasing population limits for these programs is that larger rural communities often have greater institutional capacity to apply for governmental support than smaller communities. By increasing population limits for already oversubscribed programs, Congress runs the risk of squeezing out areas that are more in need of support. And, as the federal government decreases its footprint in rural areas through closing Rural Development offices and reducing staffing there, rural areas will have less technical support to navigate these complex programs.
In apparent response to this concern, the Senate bill contains a “set-aside” of 50 percent of one rural water program’s to communities with fewer than 3,000 people or a “priority” for areas with fewer than 5,500. But more than 80 percent of the funding already goes to areas of 5,000 or fewer, according to the National Rural Water Association testimony, so this language may actually mean little in practice.
Defining rural is tough policy terrain. However, efforts made to “streamline” these programs should not have the effect of making it harder for the communities most in need to qualify and compete.
Aleta Botts is agricultural policy outreach director for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and grant coordinator for the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development. Her opinions are her own, not those of the center or the university. She wrote at the request of the Daily Yonder and The Rural Blog.
By DR. NELL AHL
Reprinted from the Jan. 20, 2012, Hickman County Times.
During a lecture in Equine Rotations in veterinary college I heard the Professor talk about equine slaughter houses. I was appalled, raised my hand and immediately asked him to repeat the last topic briefly.
“Those of us who live in South Central Michigan are fortunate. We rarely see horses that are starved, neglected or abused. The reason is that there is an equine slaughter house located in northeast Indiana so that horses that no longer have a function still have economic value. Otherwise, an unwanted horse is a considerable economic drain. Why it is expensive to euthanize a horse on a property even with a properly placed bullet because a large hole must be dug to inter the body and that requires expensive equipment.”
Yes, I had heard correctly, but was still in shock: People actually slaughtered horses in this country. Having known them all my life as pets or occasionally as working animals, I assumed that . . ., well, in truth, I had never thought about what happens when a horse gets old, is unable to work or is just not wanted anymore.
My hand was back in the air: What good are slaughtered horses that make them an economic advantage?
“Oh, they’re sold to France for horse meat. It’s sold as chevre there. Steak, stews, just as with beef in this country.”
Confused, angry, unable to compose rational questions in my roiling brain, I went home to just think about what had been said. When I had calmed down, I went to the Professor’s office to ask more in-depth questions about horse slaughter. What I learned both chilled me and gave me some peace.
“Horses are expensive animals to properly care for and feed: from hoof care, to tooth care, to attention to nutrition, parasites and other medical issues, horses are expensive animals to keep. Because there are lots of horses in this country, the market for sale of ordinary animals in usual times is not lucrative. When there is a slaughter house within 100 or so miles, there are rarely reports of abandoned, abused or neglected horses. Just check the statistics.” Then he handed me a sheaf of papers with charts and graphs to back up his statements.
Figuring I was pretty naive (which I was), he continued on to point out that a quick bullet to the head was, in his mind, far preferable to starving to death over a long period. Imagine the horse’s expectation: food when needed, water on demand, a kind word here or there suddenly withheld.
As hunger catches hold, the horse begins frantic chewing on fence posts, tree bark, shrubs, any trashy vegetation including thorny plants to keep the pain of hunger from overwhelming body and soul. Death comes slowly and painfully. Perhaps a cut on the leg, ordinarily a minor wound, becomes a major source of pain because there are no nutrients for repair.
Just remember, a truck ride of 100 miles or less, a quick bullet to the head, and all this pain is averted. The Professor’s arguments made sense.
In 2006, the U.S. government placed a ban on slaughtering horses by simply refusing to allow USDA meat inspectors to work in equine slaughter plants. This effectively shut them down.
Did the closing of equine slaughter in the U.S. solve the problem of horses for slaughter? Indeed it did not. First off, horse meat is eaten by people in much of the rest of the world. Second, our neighbors in Canada and Mexico did not close down their equine slaughter houses.
What happened is that aggregators would go to livestock markets and purchase horses, load them double high in huge trucks and ship them to Canada or Mexico. For animals from most of the U.S., this meant thousands of miles in uncomfortable transit, often times without proper food, water or exercise. Mashed together in the trucks, without a foot to move in any direction, horses are often unable to walk when the trucks unload.
So the USDA wrote additional regulations last October to require a reasonable number of stops for feeding, watering, and movement; it also prevented the transport of horses on double-decker trucks.
Just a few weeks ago, there was a single-decker truck wreck on I-40 West as the driver of the truck apparently fell asleep. As a result, several horses were killed and others injured. They were on their way from an equine farm near Lebanon to Mexico, to a slaughter house. The trucking firm had a very poor record of safety, according to media news, pointing out another hazard to horses enduring transport.
In the January 2012 appropriations bill for USDA, the language barring federal meat inspectors from U.S. slaughter facilities was omitted. Congress approved the new language in the bill that was signed by President Obama. The omission of this language is believed to open up the possibility of the return of horse slaughter plants in the U.S. Some expect to see U.S. horse slaughter plants opening up in the next few months.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are you as horrified as I was as a student when I first learned of equine slaughter?
River Edge Farm (Equine Rescue and Adoption) here in Hickman County and the Hickman Humane Society have rescued more than 40 horses from disgusting situations in the past year. I am still conflicted about the issue, but one thing for sure: If it can help the suffering of neglected and abandoned horses in Hickman County, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.
Dr. Ahl is a retired biologist and veterinarian who lives in Hickman County. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By BRAD PARKE
GRUNDY, Va., Jan. 7, 2012 -- Like other communities in the Central Appalachian coalfield, the small town of Grundy, Va., has suffered decades of dwindling employment opportunities, due in large measure to the area’s reliance on the coal industry.
Grundy, population 1,100 and the seat of Buchanan County, sits at the confluence of Slate Creek and the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, and the steep topography and narrow valleys have contributed to several detrimental floods that devastated its downtown.
Leaders knew they had to tame these waters for the downtown to remain viable and realize its potential, but realized they ultimately had to take a new approach: higher education.
Private graduate schools
In 1997, the Appalachian School of Law admitted its first class in a newly renovated building that had once been Grundy’s high school. The idea of ASL began in 1993 when Joe Wolfe, a lawyer in nearby Norton, envisioned bringing a law school to the region. A steering committee of lawyers and business leaders was formed, and leaders in Grundy, approached the committee and offered facilities for the school. Today, the school is fully accredited and has about 350 students and 70 full-time faculty and administrative staff.
Leaders also envisioned that the school would produce economic spin-off activity for local businesses. While the school has not transformed the local economy, residents have noticed a substantial effect.
“There is no doubt the law school has had a positive impact economically on Buchanan County,” said Tom Scott, a lawyer and ASL adjunct professor, has practiced law in Grundy for more than 30 years.
“The most profound impact has been on the real estate and food service industries.”
In addition to the influx of students, the local tax and retail base benefit because full-time faculty and staff are required to live in Buchanan County, and that resulted in construction of housing that boosted the economy.
The increase in local government revenue has enabled Grundy to invest in more police and fire protection, water and sewer services and school improvements.
The law school’s success was a springboard for the Appalachian College of Pharmacy. It was a response to a national shortage of pharmacists and the need to improve the health status of Central Appalachia.
The school admitted its first class in spring 2005 and was fully accredited in 2007. It employs approximately 30 faculty and staff and currently has about 200 students.
Recently, the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority secured a $5.6 million loan to speed the development of the Appalachian College of Optometry, planned to be located at the Buchanan Information Park in Grundy.
This third private graduate school is expected to create 66 new jobs with an annual payroll of $7.8 million by its seventh year of operation. It will be one of only 21 optometry schools in the nation. The first class is expected to begin in August of 2013.
Public infrastructure improvements
Graduate schools are not the only thing changing Grundy. The town is undergoing a substantial flood control project that has virtually re-shaped its downtown. The work is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Grundy Industrial Development Authority, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The project includes a floodwall topped by a four-lane highway bypass replacing a winding, two-lane road, creating more potential for business and commerce in the town.
Walmart is adjacent to Grundy’s main street and the Appalachian School of Law. While most such “big box” stores are located on the outskirts and suburban areas of towns, this one is essentially in the middle of downtown, within walking distance to students and citizens working in town. The additional retail shops of the Grundy Town Center include a Subway, clothing store, sports store and a game shop, among others.
Forecasting Grundy’s future
Although the graduate schools, the Grundy Town Center and the flood control project have not cured the ills of poverty in the community overnight, it is a start.
“We must continue to improve our roads and look to attract another major industry to supplement the coal industry and private graduate schools,” Scott said, “but this is a start.”
While it is still too early to adequately measure whether Grundy’s investments have paid off, initial indications are that they are making an impact. In looking forward, it is crucial that Grundy and Buchanan County work to capitalize on the influx of the social and economic capital created by the educational institutions.
Similar rural communities should take note of this town’s innovative approach to development. If ultimately successful, Grundy may become not only a model for strategic economic diversification in Appalachia, but rural America.
Fans at Farm Aid's 25th anniversary concert say they are growing hope for America
By Alexandria Sardam
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
MILWAUKEE -- Cowboy boots, sneakers, flip-flops, and moccasins danced across the covered baseball field of Miller Park in Milwaukee Saturday in celebration of Farm Aid 25. Some came for the music, some for the local beer and organic brats. Regardless of their motivation, all 35,000 seemed to leave with a sense of pride in their country and an overflowing love and for the traditional family farmer.
In the mid 1980’s many of America’s farmers found themselves struggling to keep their land because of skyrocketing production costs, interest rates and plummeting crop prices. Factory farms posed another threat; they needed large amounts of cheap grain to feed their livestock, further depressing prices. Many non-farmers object to factory farms’ use of hormones and antibiotics and their opposition animal rights.
Farm Aid began when Willie Nelson was moved by the words of Bob Dylan at a Live Aid concert and wanted to do something to help protect what he considered America’s heart and soul, its farmers.
Farm Aid has been held since 1985, making 2010 the 25th anniversary and the 26th benefit concert. This year the Farm Aid stage welcomed Kenny Chesney, Band of Horses and Norah Jones along with other artists, activists and families from across the country.
Sarah Riesgraf, a kindergarten teacher and proud supporter of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers, spoke of her responsibility in the classroom and in her community in Iowa.
“My father-in-law is a small-farm dairy farmer,” said Riesgraf. She said she also supports the family farmer through what she teaches her students.
“We do whole units on recycling, protecting the environment so that it’s here for the future, “said Riesgraf. She spoke of the importance of teaching youth about the world we live in, saying the choices we make today will dictate our future.
“Clean your environment, it’s the only one we have,” she said. “Take care of it now and teach your children to do the same.”
Activists and artists alike spoke of the importance of understanding our world at a smaller level.
”I think that it’s so important that we reach an understanding as a society that if we want a healthy future and healthy planet and healthy children then we have to think globally but act locally,” said Dave Matthews, who has been a Farm Aid board member and performer since 2001.
Matthews, a family man, owns Maple Hill Farm, an organic farm that is a contributor to the Best of What’s Around Community Supported Agriculture Program located near Charlottesville, Va.
Cindy Kennedy came to Farm Aid for a different type of celebration: a bachelorette party and some jams.
“I came for the good lineup and variety of artists,” said Kennedy, adding that Farm Aid has taught her how to protect the environment.
“I bring reusable shopping bags when I go shopping, ” she said.
The spirits of rock and roll and charity were evident throughout the day. “Have a Grateful Day” was stitched on the back of one man’s shirt over a Grateful Dead dancing bear. The man was giving away handmade wooden necklaces and accepted donations that he said would directly go to Farm Aid.
The spirit blossomed as the night of music continued and the artists took the stage. Eager eyes and ears anticipated the artists’ songs and thoughts about the evening. Chants from the crowds began as kids in overalls danced to the beat of drums.
Neil Young, an early supporter of Farm Aid, shouted to the crowd, “Look at the label. Don’t buy from other countries. Buy American.”
The night ended when Nelson took the stage with bandmates to perform and thank the audience for a memorable 25 years. Explosions of applause and cheers erupted from every nook and cranny of Miller Park.
As the house lights came up and the hum of the audience applause died down the spirit of the concert was still buzzing though the air of the stadium. The college kids walked out linking arms still singing tunes they had heard that night. The farmers and activists seemed to walk a little taller. The families held hands and bundled up against the fall Wisconsin air.
Farm Aid 25 was more than just a benefit concert. It was a bonding experience between people from all vastly different backgrounds, who left more aware of the neighboring farms and proud to be supporting the fight for the family farmer.
By Betty Dotson-Lewis
In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Lexington on Dec. 17, it took a jury of Sandra Crouch’s peers – five women and three men – less than two hours to return a $150,000 verdict in her favor against Rifle Coal Co. of West Liberty, which she had sued alleging sexual harassment.
Not only is it unusual for a woman to win a unanimous jury verdict of this size, there is something else remarkable about this case: It’s even more unusual for a female chairman of a county school board to win a sexual harassment case while pursuing her day job in a nontraditional field, road construction.
Sandy Crouch has spent the last 22 years as a member of the Bath County Board of Education. In January she was re-elected chairman. It is part of her official duties to make sure no student (regular, special needs or gifted), teacher, cook, custodian, maintenance worker or anyone else under the Board of Education’s jurisdiction is harassed, sexually or in any other manner, and that no one is made to work or study in a hostile environment. That is the law. State laws are handed down to school board members, and county policies are added to those laws to ensure students and workers are protected from such incidents. Each student and employee is promised a safe environment in which to study or work.
Sandy and other board members have been trained how to deal with cases of sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Never in a million years did Sandy imagine she would be the one on the receiving end of those actions -- subjected to sexual harassment while attempting to perform her duties on the job in a hostile environment.
Sandy’s story is one told over and over, even in 2010. Although laws are in place to protect and prevent, there is always another time, another place, and another person stripped of their dignity and rights before family, friends, fellow church members, and community members. This is Sandy Crouch’s story.
Salt Lick, Kentucky, Sandy’s hometown, is in the foothills of the mountains. It has a population of around 350. Estimated median household income was $34,189 in 2008 and $26,042 in 2000. Lexington, a hub of business establishments and educational institutions, is an hour west. (MapQuest image)
Sandy’s ancestors came to Salt Lick in the early 1800s and never left. Sandy, in her 50s, has lived in Salt Lick all her life. She went to school there and goes to church there. She is married and has two grown daughters and a son who live within sight of each other. Her parents live but a stone’s throw away. They talk to each other every day. The community is closely knit, just as Sandra’s family is. Nearly everyone knows everyone and most are related in this quaint little Appalachian town.
Sandy worked as a secretary and at various other jobs before employment with Rifle Coal Co. began in January 2005, when she was employed as a flagger on a road construction project in adjoining Fleming County.
Sandy was not afraid of hard, outside work. Her family had owned a construction company, and she worked with them. She looked forward to a good hourly wage, especially since her husband had serious back problems and was unable to work. At the time she was hired at Rifle, she was virtually the sole support of her family.
The flagger job was more than a half-hour drive over a two-lane, curvy road each morning before a 12-hour shift. I asked Sandy Crouch by phone about the working conditions at the job site.
She told me at first it was fine, but in the middle of the summer of 2005 she was assigned to a new supervisor. “Another guy started telling me what to do and how to do it, and the sexual harassment began from this new supervisor toward me and the other two women employees” on the job, one a flagger and the other a heavy equipment operator. She attempted to ward off the unwanted advances and brutal comments by telling the supervisor she was a married woman and not interested in any type of sexual relationship with him.
“I asked him if he knew what the word ‘no’ meant.” She asked him to stay away from her. None of her attempts to get him to stay away worked. “His son and I had worked together and I tried to divert his constant sexual talk by asking him about his son.” But he would not be diverted from constant talk about sex and requests for favors, she said: On one hot summer day when she was wearing a light-colored T-shirt, he grabbed her breast, leaving a dirty handprint on her shirt. When lunch time came, co-workers asked about it. She burst into tears; one of her female co-workers tried to comfort her. The harassment continued over several months and the supervisor became more aggressive towards her.
She said one aspect of the sexual harassment meant her supervisor repeatedly called her “Elk Ass” and did so over the CB radio. “When someone in management was approached with the problem we were put off and told something to the effect, ‘You know [the supervisor]. That’s just the way he is.”
Sandy continued: “I felt as if I was treated disrespectfully by some of the men on the job. For example, during some 12-hour shifts the women got no breaks at all – bathroom or lunch. A trucker might drive by, slow down, and say something like, ‘We’re going home a half-hour early today, so no lunch break.’ That would be the first we knew of that work schedule. We were never told or consulted.”
She explained that the job of flagging traffic, for obvious safety reasons, does not allow for time away from your duty unless there is a replacement to keep traffic flowing. It’s a dangerous job; the lives and limbs of your co-workers, you and the public are at stake.
The women discussed the harassment among themselves at first and did not file a formal complaint. Sandy did not tell her family about what was going on at work; she kept it to herself.
The women complained to Rifle alleging discriminatory treatment, which is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and spoke to a state investigator regarding their working conditions. Soon afterward, they were laid off and have not been called back. The heavy equipment operator had worked at various jobs for Rifle for more than 15 years.
Sandy Crouch was laid off on May 8, 2006. As the recession hit, trying to survive with no job and a disabled husband resulted in serious problems for the family. They lost their home. Finally her husband went back to work against his doctor’s orders. As Sandy explained, “We just had to do something.”
In June 2009 Sandy and others sued Rifle Coal alleging sexual harassment. The company is operated and part owned by Barrett Frederick of West Liberty, Ky.
Sandy needed support and advice during this difficult time in her life when this close-knit family in a close-knit community was torn apart. She turned to her cousin, Betty Jean Hall, a Berea College graduate and an attorney, who founded the Coal Employment Project in Jacksboro, Tenn., for women miners in 1977. For over ten years, Betty Jean almost exclusively represented women, much of her work being focused on sexual harassment in the coal mines.
Under federal law, a jury verdict for sexual harassment can be reduced, depending on how many employees the company has. A hearing to determine the number of Frederick's employees was to be held Friday, Dec. 12, but the day before, his lawyer, Sandy and her lawyer, Tony Oppegard agreed that Rifle would pay her $99,000. Sandy said she settled the case because she could have ended up with a lesser amount and more legal expenses if the verdict had been appealed. Frederick’s lawyer, Jeff Walther, declined to comment Saturday, saying he would have to consult with Frederick.
Four days after the verdict in Sandy’s case, a similar suit filed by Debbie Perry, the 15-year heavy equipment operator, alleging wrongful discharge, was settled for an undisclosed sum after a jury was selected and opening statements had been made, and just before the first witness was to be called. Perry is also represented by Oppegard.
I asked Sandy what she hoped to gain by telling her story.
“I want to tell my story so that other women who may be single mothers or working because of an illness in the family or women who simply want to work in nontraditional jobs will not have to go through the pain and sorrow I have for four long years to go to trial and win and then have to prove points even after a jury of my peers have made a decision in my favor.”
Betty Dotson-Lewis is a writer based in western North Carolina. She is a native of West Virginia and author of Sunny Side of Appalachia: Bluegrass from the Grassroots and other books about the region. Her Web site is Appalachiacoal.com.