Community Member

Clinch Coalition

Wise, Virginia

Clinch Coalition volunteers, including sawyer and retired District Ranger Jorge Hersel, clear fallen trees on Roaring Branch Trail. The Clinch Coalition.

In 2018, the Clinch Coalition of southwest Virginia celebrated their 20-year Anniversary. They began together out of alarm with what the logging industry was doing to the National Forest, specifically at High Knob. Using grassroots power, they collected 5,000 signatures protesting that logging, reducing the proposed 1400 acres down to 680 acres. That same on-the-ground energy is what has sustained them all these years.

The Clinch Coalition works to protect the forests, wildlife and watersheds of the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest. Their focus is the High Knob, “a 4,223 foot peak located on which is home to more rare and endangered aquatic and botanical species than any other region in the continental United States. High Knob is at the heart of the Clinch Valley Bioreserve, a 2,200 square mile section of southwestern Virginia and upper east Tennessee that has been designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the Last Great Places in the World.”

View from the High Knob Observation Tower.

In 2001, they endured the Big Stony Creek Flood, which brought new energy to the group. Flash flooding from extensive logging caused widespread property damage and killed an elderly man in the community. In response, The Clinch Coalition, together with allies, proposed creating a High Knob National Recreation Area, which was unfortunately sidetracked by the logging lobbyists, even with Congressional support.

Debris in the Big Stony Creek Flood. Picture by Stacey Morgan Smith.

As they approach their 25th anniversary, the Clinch Coalition has much to be proud of:

  • 2003: Stopped a proposal to remove decorative surface rock from High Knob with the band Blue Highway performing three fundraising concerts. Rallies, and trail hikes brought the community together
  • 2005: Initiated new programs to better engage the community in environmental issues related to the Knob and the Clinch Bioreserve, partnering with Virginia Save Our Streams to start a Citizens Stream Monitoring Program on several local waterways, with trail work continuing today
  • 2006: Started the High Knob Naturalist Rally, and an annual EARTH Awareness Essay/Art Contest in our local public schools
  • 2008: First Earth Week Film Festival at the NortonCinema and received a $40,000 grant from the Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation to do restoration work on the Chief Benge Scout Trail
  • 2009: The Stone Mountain Wilderness was established by the Ridge and Valley Act, and the Clinch Ranger District gained its first Wilderness Area, which became incorporated into Congressman Boucher’s Jefferson Wilderness Bill
  • Stopped a proposed 30-mile ATV Trail on High Knob
  • Participated in the revision of the Jefferson Forest Plan
  • Stopped an unnecessary 1200-acre prescribed burn and reduced the size of several timber cuts
  • Continually monitoring active timber sales and working on trails.
Devil’s Fork Trail, Jefferson National Forest.

2021 began with a lawsuit. The Clinch Coalition together with Virginia Wilderness Committee, the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, the Chattooga Conservancy, Cherokee Forest Voices, Defenders of Wildlife, Georgia Forest Watch, Mountain True and Wild Virginia. They propose that w​eakened regulations will lead to more logging in the Jefferson National Forest and other federal woodlands, and seek to reverse the rollbacks and stop “putting profits ahead of both the environment and the public.”

In February 2021, The Clinch Coalition launched an online tip tool for area residents wanting to report environmental damage by logging, trail construction and other activities. “‘Citizens may not know the various local, state and federal agencies tasked with enforcing environmental regulations,’ said Coalition President Sharon Fisher. ‘Having this messaging system will allow The Clinch Coalition to intercede for citizens who have become frustrated from not having their voices heard.’”

Candy darter. Photo coutresy of Todd Crail, University of Toledo.

In April 2021, the endangered Candy Darter Fish won 368 stream miles of protected critical habitat in Virginia. The Darter gained Endangered Species Act protection in 2018 after The Center, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Clinch Coalition petitioned for its protection in 2010.

If you find yourself in Virginia any September, you can join the High Knob Naturalist Rally, being held in 2021 on September 25th. It’s an annual event, and promises fun for the family  in the beautiful mountains of the Jefferson National forest at the High Knob Lake with educational hikes and presentations for everyone. As volunteer Martie Bell shared during their 20th Anniversary, “‘[The Clinch Coalition] is a very issue-driven, love-of-the-Earth group that does a lot beyond just saving the trees,’ says Bell. ‘It’s a group that really has an impact; it doesn’t just talk, it has actions.’”

Volunteers, presenters, sponsors and guests at this years 13th Annual High Knob Naturalist Rally!

Written by Michele Gielis


Watch Now: UVa-Wise team hunts for amphibians in SW Va.’s high-altitude wetlands, Bristol Herald Courier, by Sarah Wade, July 4, 2021

DEQ, recreation authority sign agreement on Spearhead Trails system, The Times News, by Mike Still, May 13, 2021

Endangered Candy Darter Fish Wins 368 Stream Miles of Protected Critical Habitat in Virginia, West Virginia, Press Release, Center for Biological Diversity, April 6, 2021

January 2021 Litigation, The Smokey Wire: National Forest News and Views, by jon Haber, February 26, 2021

The Clinch Coalition starts Leave A Tip online reporting tool for environmental damage, Times News, February 16, 2021

Virginia groups sue U.S. Forest Service over new environmental review standards, The Virginia Mercury, by Sarah Vogelsong, January 11, 2021

Southwest Virginia lawsuit seeks to stop rollback of protections for all national forests, The Roanoke Times, by Laurence Hammack, January 8, 2021

Lawsuit: Stop Trump administration’s parting shot at national forests: Conservationists challenge rule blocking citizens and science from forest management, Southern Environmental Law Center, January 8, 2021

Clinch Coal vs The Forest Service – complaint, January 8, 2021

Big Cherry Update, The Clinch Coalition, November 10.2020

Clinch Coalition voices concerns to state about Spearhead Trails, WYCB 5 News, by Kristen Quon, August 12, 2020

Saving Appalachian streams for crayfish and communities, Appalachian Voices, by Sara Lamb, February 25, 2020

After 3 years of negotiation, Forest Service compromises on timber project: Logging project moved off outstanding area of Jefferson National Forest, Southern Environmental Law Center, March 29, 2019

The Clinch Coalition Celebrates 20 Years; 20 Years of Protecting Jefferson National Forest, The Appalachian Voice, by Molly Moore, August 12, 2018

Big timber sales come back in the Clinch, The Sierra Club, by Sherman Bamford, January 25, 2017

Michele Gielis

Michele Gielis

Michele has spent the last decade helping nonprofits raise their voice for change. She looks to make action meaningful by connecting people to the technology and messages that bring resonance and resilience. Michele is proud to support the Anthropocene Alliance working to get communities to #HigherGround


Sharon Fisher
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Air Pollution, Flooding, Water Contamination, Wildfires


Fighting Industrial Contamination, Halting Bad Development, Nature-Based Solutions, Renewable Energy

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