Journey Up Coal River wins e-Appalachia Website of the Year Award

Journey Up Coal River (, an educational, interactive multimedia website about West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, is this year’s recipient of the Appalachian Studies Association’s e-Appalachia Website of the Year Award. Aurora Lights was honored by this prestigious acknowledgement, which was first issued in 2002,  and is based on the content, design and mission statement of web sites dealing with Appalachia and its people.  The web site’s participatory nature, through interactive maps, research methods, and community involvement, has resulted in a versatile and effective resource for students, teachers, activists and area residents.

“I nominated the Journey Up Coal River project for the Appalachian Studies Association’s e-Appalachia award because of the project’s unique combination of using mapping and personal experiences of Coal River area residents to tell their story in an interactive, engaging, and authentic way,” says Cassie Robinson, a member of the Appalachian Studies Association Scholarship Committee.

The website offers a complex examination of both contemporary mining issues and the historic patterns that have made southern West Virginia an extraction colony for the rest of the nation. The site complements detailed articles from six different thematic areas, including “History & Social Geography” and “Public Health & Coal Slurry,” with teacher-created lesson plans for high school and college students.  A theme on “Renewable Energy on Coal River Mountain” was developed with contributions from Downstream Strategies, author of a study comparing the economics of a wind farm versus mountaintop removal mining on Coal River Mountain.  Downstream Strategies also provided assistance in creating maps throughout the web site. Aurora Lights has an open invitation to educators to use this website in the classroom and welcome improvements to the existing curricular material.  Another section of the site, due to be ready by late Spring, will include a community-resource map where Coal River Valley residents will have the opportunity to speak about their own visions for the future of the valley.

Jen Osha, the project’s originator and Aurora Lights’ founder and director, and Charles Suggs, the site’s lead designer and programmer, accepted the award March 19, in Dahlonega, Ga., at the association’s annual conference.  The participatory mapping component is the part that most excites Suggs.

“I’m really excited about where we are going with the maps.  We’re going to really increase the level of interaction with the maps and integrate them with community resources,” Suggs said.  The site provides multiple navigation options, including an interactive map, a traditional navigation bar and linked images, to present Journey Up Coal River’s rich array of resources.

“I believe that the greatest strength of this website is the participatory process that created and continues to create it.” Osha said adding, “the contribution of many people’s time and energy to this site resulted in a final product greater than the sum of all its parts.” Osha is the producer of Moving Mountains: Voices of Appalachia and Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home, benefit albums that combine music about mountaintop removal with interviews of coalfield residents.

Journey Up Coal River uses a Creative Commons Attribution License, which allows the contents to be distributed and displayed by others as long as they credit the site, and is built using open source coding and operating systems. It has received 3,000 visitors since it went public in late July of 2009.

Journey Up Coal River is funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, The Mark Vann Foundation, Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.  Aurora Lights’ mission is to “support locally-based projects that strengthen the connections within and between human communities and their natural environment by promoting environmental and social action. Ultimately, we hope to restore a sense of the sacred balance between the Earth and the human community that will promote sustainable and thoughtful land stewardship.” 

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