Larry Gibson, a key figure in the fight to stem mountaintop-removal mining, died of a heart attack Sunday on Kayford Mountain in Raleigh County, W.Va. Here’s a clip about his activism from a 2007 documentary:

West Virginia’s State Journal describes Gibson’s impact:

“When it came time for him to walk through the coalfields [on a 1999 trip to raise awareness about MTR], people who had been walking with him were very understandably reluctant and everybody was trying to talk him into changing his route — he absolutely refused,” [said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition]. “He was jeered, he was heckled, but he didn’t give up and he made it, over 500 miles from one end of the state to the other. To me, remembering Larry, that is just so poignant because it speaks to the incredible courage and determination that this man had.”

Mountaintop mining expanded over time to surround Gibson’s family home. Bady thought of an incident in the early 2000s when Gibson watched as mining equipment ripped through a family cemetery, his best efforts unable to stop it.

His experience led to a push by [Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition] and others that resulted in legislation that increased protections for family cemeteries.

Photo by NESRI.

In 2007, Gibson was named an environmental hero by CNN.

Mountaintop-removal mining is a ridiculously destructive type of strip mining that has been blamed for, among other damage, contaminating a fifth of streams in southern West Virginia.

Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, an organization started by Gibson, released a statement reading, in part:

Kayford [Mountain] was the site of Larry’s birth, the final resting place of 300 ancestors stretching back to the 18th century, and the site of Larry’s annual 4th of July festival celebrating life in the mountains. As part of his effort to preserve the mountains, Larry traveled across the country, to schools, churches and a wide range of public gatherings where he spread his simple gospel about the mountains: “Love em or leave em; just don’t destroy em.”

He was 66.