When it comes to entertainers, there is probably no American singer more wholesome, cheerful and relentlessly upbeat as country music star Dolly Parton. Raised in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, Ms. Parton is the public face of Smoky Mountain tourism, exemplified by the popular Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
And she's also a genuinely nice person. So why on earth would anyone want to boycott Dollywood?
Because Dolly lives in Tennessee, and Tennessee loves its mountains.
You see, Tennesseans don't want to see their mountains -- and their billion-dollar tourism economy -- destroyed. So Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander has introduced legislation in the Senate that would prevent coal companies from blasting the tops off of Appalachian Mountains and dumping the debris into mountain streams, a hideous mining method called "mountaintop removal" that is, unfortunately, widespread in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Sen. Alexander's bill, The "Appalachia Restoration Act" (S. 696) doesn't sit well with certain coal companies such as Coal Mac, a division of St. Louis-based coal giant Arch Coal. In a July 6 letter, Coal Mac HR Manager Richard Phillips advised the Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce that Coal Mac's Virginia and Kentucky sister companies were canceling their annual company picnic at Dollywood.
Roger Horton, front man for a West Virginia group called Citizens for Coal has also asked its members to boycott Tennessee travel.
Sen. Alexander, well aware of the importance of tourism in his state, responded
"...Sounds like they are saying we are not going to see you unless you let us blow off the top of your mountains and dump them in streams and that's a pretty unusual message."
For years, many Tennessee newspapers have been relatively silent on the outrage of mountaintop removal coal mining. But lately they seem to have woken up, thanks to the miners' boycott.
Chattanooga Times Editorial, Aug 2:
[The miners boycott is ] akin to hostage-taking, of course. The state's tourism industry, particularly the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge-Dollywood areas around the Smokey Mountains, is an innocent bystander in the miners' dispute.
The campaign, and its nasty component of threatening calls to tourism facilities, should be rejected. People who love visiting our mountains should be appreciative of Sen. Alexander's efforts. Indeed, tourism is far more lucrative to mountain communities than mining.
Mountain-top removal mining should be banned. It employs far fewer miners than traditional mining practices, and its environmental costs are vast. It has already destroyed scores of mountain tops and over 2,000 miles of valley streams and the communities they support. It should be banned as soon as possible.
Knoxville News-Sentinel editorial, Aug 2 "Tennessee Needs Tourists, Not Threats"
"U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recently struck a mighty blow for environmentalism and Tennessee tourism in one big swing."
The Tennessean, Aug 6 op-ed:
"Sen. Alexander, on behalf of our ancient mountains, our irreplaceable water supply and the millions of people who treasure both, thank you for your willingness to stand up against the bullying tactics of the manipulative and desperate coal companies....If a handful of miners choose not to visit our state because we value our lands more than a dollar, that's OK. Let them stay home and enjoy their scarred half-mountains, run-off flooding, former creek beds and poisoned drinking water."
In response to the boycott, The Kentucky Chapter of the Sierra Club is calling on its members to visit Tennessee. Kentucky Sierra Club chairman Joey Shadowen said the organization supports Alexander's legislation, and encourages its members to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other Tennessee tourist sites.
Hey West Virginia miners: Leave Dolly alone. Just be quiet and go to your Ted Nugent "Friends of Coal" concert.