Stand Up That Mountain by Jay Erkskine Leutze is the true story of a protracted legal battle to save an area adjoining the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina from development as a gravel mine for the next 100 years.
Here is a description of the book:
LIVING ALONE IN HIS WOODED MOUNTAIN RETREAT, Jay Leutze gets a call from a whip-smart fourteen-year-old, Ashley Cook, and her aunt, Ollie Cox, who say a local mining company is intent on tearing down Belview Mountain, the towering peak above their house. Ashley and her family, who live in a little spot known locally as Dog Town, are “mountain people,” with a way of life and speech unique to their home high in the Appalachians. They suspect the mining company is violating North Carolina’s mining law, and they want Jay, a nonpracticing attorney, to stop the destruction of the mountain. Jay, a devoted naturalist and fisherman, quickly decides to join their cause.
So begins the epic quest of “the Dog Town Bunch,” a battle that involves fiery public hearings, clandestine surveillance of the mine operator’s highly questionable activities, ferocious pressure on public officials, and high-stakes legal brinksmanship in the North Carolina court system. Jay helps assemble a talented group of environmental lawyers to contend with the well-funded attorneys protecting the mining company’s plan to dynamite Belview Mountain, which happens to sit next to the famous Appalachian Trail, the 2,184- mile national park that stretches from Maine to Georgia. As the mining company continues to level the forest and erect the gigantic crushing plant on the site, Jay’s group searches frantically for a way to stop an act of environmental desecration that will destroy a fragile wild place and mar the Appalachian Trail forever.
It’s a great story. This occurred around the turn of the millennium in Avery County North Carolina. For those familiar with the AT, the proposed mine was located about 1 mile from Hump Mountain, one of the iconic Southern Balds on the AT.
The mine owner pulled a fast one to conceal the development of the mine until well after construction began. Rather than provide notice to adjacent land owners, the mine owner pulled the permit area 50 feet inside the property lines and gave notice to…..get this….himself. It was a ridiculous ploy. And he almost got away with it.
The adjoining landowners, environmentalists, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and hiking community learned of the debacle almost after it was too late and eventually rallied to stop it behind the tireless work of Jay Leutze. The competing interests make for a colorful cast and an outcome that remains in doubt until a ruling by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
The battle lasted for years. The fourteen year old Ashley graduated by the time it was over.
The good guys won in the end. But especially as a litigator, I know it could have easily gone the other way.
I took the photo to the right hiking over Hump Mountain in June 2014. It is a spectacular area. I’m happy to say that I did not see a gravel mine.