A simple phone call from a concerned community member prompted Jay Erskine Leutze to change his life purpose. Paul Brown, president of Clark Stone Company was going to “pull that whole mountain down,” the caller said. And she wanted Leutze, a lawyer, to intervene. Leutze chronicles his fight to save the mountain and protect an untouched stretch of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina in Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail (Scribner).
The plight of the “mountain people” against Clark Stone Company is an inspiring struggle that set a legal precedent for land preservation. Leutze—who is now a trustee for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy—describes his passion for the mountains, specifically Belview Mountain, and how his life became inextricably linked with its fate. It began in 1980 when a developer first put a condominium complex called Sugar Top on top of Big Yellow Mountain where he lives. “Since Sugar Top had gone up, not a single day had gone by that I did not gaze upon it and seethe over the greed that would make one man, or one corporate entity, impose a perverted vision on so many others,” Leutze writes.
Years later, defending Belview Mountain, these images of development encroaching would spur him to stop Clark Stone Company before the destruction grew worse. Walking the site, he describes how the mining company had already begun to scar a once glorious view. “We crested the rise and there it was before us,” he writes. “The big, snaking scar tracking up Hartley Ridge this side of Bud Phillip’s tree fields on Belview Mountain. The gouged-out hole at the test-blast site. The trucks and shovels winking in the watery sunshine.”
Through the whole process of investigating the Mining Act of 1971 and mining companies’ violations, he provides a fresh account that takes readers inside the fight. Touching on the fallout from mining—including health problems—Stand Up That Mountain gives a voice to all those rural residents who are forced to live with the dynamite blasts, contaminated streams, polluted air and ruined landscapes. And Leutze’s story provides a legal framework for taking action.