Environmentalist group made Caldwell its base for a week

Jul. 09, 2013 @ 08:04 AM

Heavy rains, complaints from local residents and 10 arrests did not dampen spirits of the 200 Earth First! activists who spent the past week or two holed up at Boone Fork Campground near Collettsville.

The arrests stemmed from a protest Monday morning by the radical environmental advocacy group at a chemical plant in Morganton Monday morning. Approximately 100 protesters assembled at Momentive Specialty Chemicals Inc. about 7:30 a.m. and chanted, “Poison water, poison air, no fracking anywhere,” to protest the manufacture of a chemical resin that Earth First! says is vital to the fracking process.

The protest was the highlight of the group’s annual Round River Rendezvous, a week-long camp-in that attracts hundreds of Earth First!-ers from around the country. The event July 1-8 was organized by Croatan Earth First!, a Triangle-based chapter of the group.

The activists converged at Boone Fork Campground, to the chagrin of some locals surprised that the group had obtained a special use permit to use the campground from June 25-July 11. The extra time around the July 1-8 event date was for setting up and cleaning up afterward.

There may have been a lot of cleaning up needed, according to Robert Beane, who paid the camp an impromptu visit last Friday.

“I couldn’t stand the smell coming from the campsite,” Beane said. “There were campers all along the road. It’s a mess. I heard there were naked people up there.”

Nick Larson, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, confirmed there had been a couple of complaints of nudity at the pond adjacent to the park.

“We spoke to the group, and they complied,” Larson said.

The gathering is coordinated by a volunteer committee and includes workshops, tree climbing, campaign discussions, campfire music, poetry, performances and a rally. Perhaps the most important part of the Round River Rendezvous is the informal networking that goes on. The protest in Morganton also was a key feature.“When a Round River Rendezvous happens, there is usually an action in support of preserving that bio-region of land,” said Maria Rowan, Croatan Earth First! spokesperson.

Dave Parks, 68, who said he was a peace activist in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s, said he has attended many Earth First! events. Still trying to dry out Monday from the recent heavy rains, Parks said he enjoyed meeting the local organizers and passing on old protest stories.

“Getting outdoors in the West and merging the political and environmental issues has stayed with me,” he said. “I enjoy connecting with people. The rain has hindered some of the activities. Fidning enough dry spaces to talk, and a place quiet enough to be heard over the rain hitting the tarp was challenging.”

Elsewhere in the camp, sitting on a picnic table under a shelter reading “The Industrial Society and its future: The Unabomber Manifesto,” was a man who said he goes by the name Gone Away, and his dog Choo-Choo. He said he, the dog and his sister, who he said was named Fred, hitchhiked from Sykesville, Md. While not a card-carrying Earth First! member, he wanted to go to Morganton for the planned protest, but said he had to stay behind and keep an eye on Choo-Choo. Fred did attend.

“I’m really proud my sister went,” he said. “What they do is awesome. I want to do more in the future.”