Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People

Sat, 07/04/2009 - 4:00pm
Pictured: The Smoky Mountains
Credit: Bill Lea
Appalachia’s mountains are some of the oldest in the world and feature one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. The area has also seen massive exploitation of both people and nature in the name of the industrial revolution. Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, premieres Saturday, July 4 at 4 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011/ cable 11), travels through time and terrain to uncover the depth of the Appalachian story. With Academy Award-winning actress Sissy Spacek as narrator, magnificent visuals, colorful stories and insightful interviews with experts like author Barbara Kingsolver and Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson, the cast of scientists, historians and artists weaves a surprising tale that twists and climbs like a remote mountain road.
Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People runs rich with colorful stories and fascinating perspectives. Scientific anecdotes about the nature of the region help viewers appreciate Appalachia as an ecological treasure. One acre of cove forest in the Great Smoky Mountains supports more species of trees than all of Europe. It’s even believed that trees first evolved here 200 million years ago. Tropical jungles compacted over millions of years to create the coal that fuels our carbon economy. Deep underground, ghostly outlines of these ancient petrified plants still glow on the black coal. Miners called them flowers of darkness. Above ground, one acre of moist Appalachian forest can sustain 7,000 salamanders, most of them toxic; the pelt of soil that covers the land is a biochemically living system packed with millions of microbes, bacteria, nematodes and thousands of species of fungi. Rooted in that living soil, the American chestnut tree has been harboring a disease that prevents it from becoming a tree in the truest sense of the word, but throughout the Appalachian forest, the American chestnut’s stubborn roots continue to live underground until scientists can find a cure.