‘10,000 Acres’ explores the history of The Wilds

CUMBERLAND −The Wilds spans 10,000 acres, its history a microcosm of a region, its present the result of an unlikely chain of events led by larger-than-life personalities.

These 10,000 acres are the subject of a documentary directed by Doug Swift, a professor at Denison University. It traces the history of the land from prehistoric times to its transformation from a farming community to a massive strip mine, and the birth and emergence of The Wilds as one of the largest conservation parks in the world. country.

“It’s so dramatic all the different things that have happened on these acres,” Swift said. “A hundred years ago it was a farming community, and I’m sure no one could imagine it could be anything else.”

In the 1940s, Central Ohio Coal representatives began showing up at farmers’ doorsteps, offering to lease their farms for $1 an acre. Farmers who signed the lease may have noticed a clause giving the company the right to purchase their farms. “There were a series of reasons these farmers signed the leases, but most of them signed those leases,” Swift said. Most could not imagine why a coal company would want their land, he added.

In the post-war years, as electricity use began to climb, Central Ohio Coal, part of AEP, began stripping the mine in southeast Ohio. Suddenly, the farmers found themselves driven off the land. In the 1950s, the already sparsely populated area began to empty out even more. Farmers who had not signed the leases saw pressure from the coal company beginning to mount, through a propaganda campaign that portrayed the land as depleted and no longer good for farming, he said. he declares.

Swift said that while coal companies in the region used questionable tactics to replenish the huge tracts of land that allowed for efficient surface mining, they faced soaring demand for electricity as the quality of life for United States was improving with more appliances and bigger houses.

Two generations have passed since the first stripping shovels began mining the coal hidden in the hills of southeastern Ohio. Swift tracked down a number of former residents, who were children when their families left their land, or found their farms surrounded by mine. He spoke with former Muskingum County Commissioner Dorothy Montgomery, whose boyhood farms still exist a few hundred yards from The Wilds, and former AT&T Vice Chairman Harold Burlingame, whose the farm succumbed to the shovel.

The 10,000 acres were part of a large swath of mined land, stretching from Rix Mills in the late 1940s to Morgan County in the early 2000s. Much of the mining of what would become The Wilds was over in the 1980s. Another chapter in the tract’s long history had begun.

Swift traced the history of reclamation, from rudimentary AEP efforts that began as early as the late 1940s, to the Reclamation Act of 1972. After years of tree planting , the Reclamation Act required grass to be planted, paving the way for The Wilds. “They just planted trees, and they grew or they didn’t,” Swift said. When the Reclamation Act was passed, the land had to be returned to its natural contours and the mine wastes had to be cleared.

Sam Speck, former president of what was then Muskingum College, drafted the rehabilitation law during his first term at the Ohio Statehouse. The law’s decision to require the planting of grass led to thousands of acres of grassland, 10,000 acres of which became The Wilds, largely thanks to a man named Bob Teater.

Teater saw large tracts of reclaimed surface mined land in eastern Ohio and envisioned a huge zoo, where endangered animals could be bred for future release in their native lands. . He approached AEP about donating land and held meetings in the area, soliciting funds and assuring neighbors that their cattle were safe. AEP eventually donated 10,000 acres and the International Center for Wild Animal Preservation was born. Eventually this would be shortened to The Wilds and become home to exotic and rare wildlife.

Speck and Tater had a final impact on the region. “These guys are visionaries. They saw the world could be different, and they managed to make it that way,” Swift said.

Swift worked on the documentary for two years. It was inspired in part by a small brown bird, Henslow’s sparrow. Originally from the prairies, it found its way to The Wilds, where it established a population without the help of humans. This five-inch bird, with a hiccup-like song, led to a closer examination of all facets of the history of these 10,000 acres.

Farmers and coal miners tell their stories

The documentary is a web-based multimedia program. Its 11 chapters include mini-video documentaries, excerpts from home movies, images from family albums dating back generations. Viewers can jump from chapter to chapter, or follow the chapters chronologically, from prehistory to a look into the future. He told the story of the land “using everything that came to me to tell the story of what happened to those 10,000 acres”. Many photos have never been seen outside of family albums, and a family member gave him his home videos from the early days of mining in the area.

The mini-documentaries tell the stories of farmers and coal miners in their own words through interviews and footage. Swift captures the vastness of mining, from the sheer size of the Big Muskie, the world’s largest dragline. Each chapter is linked by its genesis, the 10,000 acres in eastern Muskingum County.

“I feel like these stories were about to slip into the ether,” Swift said. “When you put something on paper or in film, you always capture something, but you always leave something out and you really hope that you paid homage to them, like you were trying to do.” He said he was grateful that such a diverse group of people shared their stories with him.

The documentary will have a two-part premiere. At 7 p.m. on October 27, Swift will discuss the project and show videos from 10,000 Acres at Muskingum University’s Boyd Science Center in New Concord. At 7 p.m. on November 1, he will do the same at Denison University’s Slayter Auditorium in Granville. Swift said the event at New Concord will focus more on historical aspects of the work, while the event at Granville will focus more on the science involved. Both events are free to the public.




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