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Community Resource Mapping

Delbert and Judy Gunnoe

Delbert and Judy Gunnoe live at the head of Lick Creek Hollow, nestled between the toes of Coal River Mountain. Lifelong residents of the Coal River Valley, the Gunnoes are grounded in the traditions of the Coal River Valley as they look to its future.

Delbert worked for 32 years mining coal underground as a member of the United Mine Workers. After retiring from the mines in the mid-1990s, he used his skills as a sawmill and heavy equipment operator to earn his primary monetary income and supplemented it by hunting, gardening, canning, ginsenging, and gathering molly moochers and ramps. Judy works as a substitute postal worker around the valley. They built their current house after Delbert retired from the mines. Delbert, an avid hunter, most enjoys the freedom to roam the mountains and continuity of life in the Coal River Valley. Judy says what she values most is that “you know your neighbors – you know who they are and what they are.”

Seasonal Round Courtesy of Tending the Commons, Library of Congress
Seasonal Round Courtesy of Tending the Commons, Library of Congress

While Delbert and Judy have supported themselves with income from jobs, many of their activities are part of the seasonal round. The spring brings Molly Moocher mushrooms and ramps, which the Gunnoes gather, while they prepare a garden for the summer. They pick berries and harvest from the garden through the summer, and ginseng as summer turns to fall. Delbert hunts with family and friends in the fall. Meanwhile, they use their monetary income to purchase groceries, and meet other needs.  

Delbert wants traditional deep mining to continue as a pillar of the region's economy and sees the mountaintop removal as a threat to not only his own property, which borders Coal River Mountain, but the region's long-term economic and social viability. Delbert envisions a balance of underground coal mining and development of the region's other resources, including renewable energy generating facilities, sustainable forestry, tourism, and traditional crafts.     

Their 300 acres of forested land, running up to the top of the ridge behind their home, is at the foundation of Delbert and Judy's entrepreneurial projects. An experienced woodworker with ample timber, Delbert is working with neighbors to build a wood kiln to increase the value of timber from their land.  Harnessing the class 3 winds that blow across their land above the hollow is a more ambitious project they are undertaking in collaboration with Coal River Wind. Delbert sees wind energy on his land as both good economics and an example to show the Coal River community that there are alternatives to coal.

Delbert and Judy helped build the Community Greenhouse in March 2010, in Arnett, three miles upriver from Rock Creek. In addition to these projects, they see opportunity in welding shops, stone working, brick making, cabinetry, agriculture, and trail building for ATVs, ramp and mushroom tours, or even an off-shoot of the Appalachian Trail.

While Judy and Delbert share high hopes for the valley's future, they think that the Coal River Valley is more impoverished than ever. They share an opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, but dislike that the contentious issue has driven a wedge into the community. Access to loans, grants, and other financing is limited in the Coal River area, and many lack the skills to navigate the bureaucracies to leverage existing resources. They also see the continuing outmigration of youth and perceived greed and laziness as barriers to improvement in the area. Because of community fragmentation, they have found few avenues of sharing ideas and resources to work with like minded people.   

Judy and Delbert both reminisce about past times, when neighbors more readily helped neighbors, and think that there needs to be a return of this communal work ethic for their hopes of the valley's future to be realized. “People have to come together, whether they’re miners or senior citizens. If we can get some kind of economic development, it would show people out in Beckley that try to run Raleigh County that we can get something going, and they might funnel more funds our way. A greenhouse, a wood kiln, pick-your-own-fruits, tours for people from the cities to come in and dig their own ramps and hunt mushrooms,” says Judy.