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Roanoke Appalachian news


Virginia Geologic History and Coal

The geologic history of Virginia is fascinating. Did you know that a chunk of the African continent once sat atop most of the state? Events before and after that has shaped Virginia's amazing landscapes and resources. Origins can be traced back to an initial super-continent Rodinia some billion years ago, before land creatures. Virginia, nestled in the middle of Rodinia, sported a large sea next to it as Rodinia rifted apart, but unlike today, that sea was to Virginia's west and mountains in its east, the opposite of today! Water drained from those mountains to a primal sea creating huge swampy regions with abundant plant life. Varying sea levels and sediments began burying swampy peat over millions of years laying the foundation of our western Virginia coal reserves of today. But how does the African continent fit in or over?

Virginia, part of the North American or Laurentia tectonic plate or continent, remained relatively the same after Rodinia had separated, building more dense plant and sediment layers, like a thick cake, for hundreds of million years until the the blockbuster of all continental collisions occurred: the Allegheny Orogeny, some 300 million years ago. It's hard to think of crashing when objects are only moving at inches per year, but like a freight train that can't stop on a dime, the African continent first crunched and then pushed over portions of Virginia. Inspecting the "damage" caused by the continental collision reveals significant changes. It laid the framework for the Virginia we see today.

In the far western part of the state, the effect of the crash tended to be limited to uplifting, the Appalachian plateau pushed up. But moving eastward, where the crash was a crunch, we find the original bedrock compressed and folded, similar to the folds in a pushed carpet. The layered cake of millions of years became folded and compressed, creating heat and pressure and turning the softer "cake" rock to harder metamorphic rock like shale. That dynamic is the basis for the mountain ridges we see near the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge even harder rock to its east. Farther east, the continental collision left the edge of Africa atop Virginia, only to be eroded away once that super-continent of Pangea split and the African continent drifted away and created the Atlantic Ocean. The Piedmont and Coastal Plain then followed its own geologic path, relatively flat.

Today we find 3 distinct coal fields in Virginia: far SW, Valley and Eastern coal fields. The Valley coal fields are most closest to Roanoke, located in Montgomery, Augusta and Rockingham counties (we can point-out this geology on some of our hikes). Valley coal is one of the purest in the state, many impurities were squeezed out by pressures caused by primordial land or "cake" being folded and compressed by the continental collision with Africa. Purer or Anthracite coal is sought for metallurgical purposes such as making steel. Virginia produced roughly 1.3 billion dollars of coal in 2021, though most being bituminous coal used for energy production. Coal, a natural resource derived from plants, is an integral element in our amazing Appalachian chain.


Mountain Lake Gets More Investigation

Mountain Lake in Virginia has had a varied and interesting history. Well known for its cinematic setting for parts of the movie Dirty Dancing, it has also been noted for the amazing way its lake has diminish, almost disappeared. Geologists believed that fractures in the rock structure had opened and allowed water to drain faster than water flowing into the lake. Water levels began to drop during the early 2000s and an ambitious project to stabilize the lake's water level began in 2013.

At high cost, drains or holes were identified in the lake's basin and then plugged to stem the flow of water leaking out, but such actions were for naught. Lake levels continued to fall until the lake almost disappeared. It seems more holes continued to develop and attempts to plug them seemed to be as fruitful as chasing the wind. The fractured rock debris that blocks the valley creating the lake seems more complicated than first thought and it may take natural forces to pinch-off the valley once again. A new survey is to take place in January 2023, but it is not expected to make any breakthroughs.

Colonial Downs Gets 3 Stakes Races

Colonial Downs, which was reopened in 2019 for thoroughbred horse racing, is located between Richmond and Williamsburg and owned by Churchill Downs. The track first started facing headwinds in 2009 with reduced thoroughbred dates and thoroughbred racing was not scheduled at all by 2013. Harness racing continued through 2015, but the Virginia Racing Commission denied racing at the track for 2016 and all operations were ceased.


Changes in betting procedures in 2018 and the purchase of the facility by a Chicago based group helped make the track viable again. The first race that occurred after the track's revival took place in August 2019. Most of Colonial Down's assets were purchased by Churchill Downs in 2022. The stakes races being relocated to Virginia are the Arlington Million, Beverly D. Stakes and Secretariat Stakes. Betting can be had in the Roanoke Valley at the Rosies located in Vinton just east of Roanoke City.

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