Hiking Beyond Coal

Last weekend, on July 26th, I joined the Beyond Coal Team as it hosted a hike along the historic C&O Canal Towpath to see one of Maryland’s last coal-fired power plants, the Dickerson Generating Station.

After a month of planning, we arrived at the trailhead early Saturday morning to a parking lot full of eager hikers. While some had traveled a distance to get to the trail in Montgomery County, the majority of them, we found, lived nearby and had seen the plant multiple times, though never up close. A bit after 10am, under the guidance of our Outings Leader, Mike Darzi, we set off on our six-mile hike toward the plant, the large mass of us strolling leisurely down the wide path.

Beautiful and natural as it is, the stretch of towpath we walked betrayed signs of the man-made beast living only feet behind a forest buffer on the side of the canal. As we approached the plant, a mechanical kind of thundering could be heard before even the smokestacks were seen. And when we did come upon the structure, both it's body and its stacks cleared the trees, and higher still rose the white plumes that fled the mouth of one large stack.


Easily and rather disturbingly visible in what would otherwise be a place of peace, the coal-fired power plant we saw before us seemed both a defect on the landscape and on our conception of energy usage as a whole. Seth Bush and David Smedick, Beyond Coal's representatives in Maryland, led our discussion of this plant and Beyond Coal's campaign to retire it, along with every other coal-fired plant in MD, as we stood in front of it. From its community role to its environmental one, Seth, David, and the audience explored the conceived benefits of leaving these plants operating--plus the actual consequences--as well as the true benefits of switching to clean energy.


We moved on after a quick photo-op, toward the forest full of Maryland's champion trees. We saw (among other amazingly gigantic trees) the champion American Sycamore, the Cottonwood, and the Silver Maple. The latter marked the spot where we all stopped for lunch, and at that time we introduced to the group the concept for Beyond Coal's new #StopTheSmog campaign on social media.


In order to prove to the MD Department of the Environment that Marylanders do indeed care about and want clean air through stronger pollution regulations, Beyond Coal is taking pictures of individuals wearing red and orange medical face masks so as to symbolize the danger of Red and Orange Air Alert Days. When we have one of these dangerous air days, we'll let people know that they should retweet or repost their pic and tag MDE. Our hikers on this trip were some of the first participants in this project, but all are welcome and encouraged to join. Contact Seth Bush at seth.bush@sierraclub.org.

We arrived back at the trailhead at around 2pm, tired but very much fulfilled by all of our activities, and certainly more knowledgeable about coal-fired power plants and why they should be retired once and for all. The event proved a great opportunity to openly talk about fossil fuels and their impact while expanding Beyond Coal's network and reaching more people who breathe Maryland air.

This blog post was written by one of our stellar MD Chapter interns, Emily Behnke.