The Yew Mountain Center Educates the Community About Our Mountain Heritage
The Yew Mountain Center sits along Lobelia Road in Southern Pocahontas County near Hillsboro. Since a lot of you may know little about this non-profit community educational center, we asked Erica Marks, its President, to tell us about the Yew Mountain Center and what it offers to out mountain communities.
“The Yew Mountain Center is an educational non-profit organization that started offering programs in the spring of 2017” Erica said. “Our mission is to provide programs that explore Appalachian Ecology culture and the arts while promoting community and personal wellness, it is a neighborhood coalition that formed when we found that the land was coming for sale and we decided that this place was really special and important to our community and could have the potential to really serve the community in important ways. We thought about the things that we really love about living here -the ecology, the beautiful landscape, it’s also the cultural things, the music, the art, those traditional skills those people had when they lived here in an isolated place. We wanted to preserve those cultural traditions as well as learn more about the land where we live, so we offer place-based programs here that have included birding weekends; learning about mushrooms; identifying and eating them; lots of musical programs. One of our main programs we offer here is the forest herb program, which we are working on having a botanical sanctuary and a florist farming demonstration site. We know that a lot of the things that grow in our forests have important medicinal properties, culinary uses and decorative uses, and they are kind of having a moment now where people are doing a lot of foraging for these sought-after plants and we want that to be a sustainable effort. We want to be able to show people how to responsibly collect and more then that, to show people how to cultivate them on forested mountain land so they can realize a little bit of income from that – from having mature healthy forest on their land. And they can protect the wild populations of some of these herbs like Ginseng of course, but also Black Cohosh and Solimon’s Seal and Blood Root and all of these – all of these beautiful things we see in the forest when we go out in different seasons of the year.”
Erica also talked about their work with the students in the county.
“It is really important for us to support the education that happens in this area” Erica said. “I strongly believe that kids learn in new and different ways when they go outside. So., we offer field trips here. We’ve offered field trips based on books for Kindergarten through first Graders. We’ve had social Studies Field Trips, we’ve had Math Field Trips for Middle Schoolers and coming up we have a trip for Fifth Graders in Hillsboro and Marlinton Elementary where we are going to be doing hands on activities based on the novel My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. This story is about a boy who lives for a year on his own up in the Catskill Mountains of New York in kind of a similar environment to what we have here -it’s mountainous, it’s remote. And he lives off the land. He does a lot of research in the library about what he can eat and the skills he’ll need. He raises a baby chick Falcon to hunt for him. So, it is a really captivating book. It was a really important book for me when I was growing up. We are going to be visited by a Falconer. I think this will be a really memorable lesson for the students coming here after they read it in their classes, to be in a similar environment and pretend they are Sam out in the wilderness entertaining and surviving on his own.”
How can the community help you out?
“We are a team effort here” answered Erica. “We rely a lot on volunteers and rely a lot on donations. The donations help us keep these field trips free for our local youth and the volunteers can help us with out facilities, with our forest farming. If they have any educational background, they can help us with our field trips. We have lots of places for people to plug in as volunteers and as donors. We also go out into the community. I’ve had one of our volunteers teach Yoga and we’ve done a program at Hillsboro Elementary School about outdoor safety.