A worker operates an old coal rail car through the exit of the Portal 31 coal mine -- now a tourist attraction -- in Lynch, Ky on April 18.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The decline of a 20th-century coal town

A worker operates an old coal rail car on April 18 through the exit of the Portal 31 coal mine — now a tourist attraction in Lynch, Ky.

 

The historic Appalachian coal mining town of Lynch, founded in 1917 by the U.S. Coal and Coke Company, is just a shadow of its former self. The town's decline began when the underground coal mines that provided the livelihoods of its residents were phased out in the 1960s and '70s.

 

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An explosive is detonated on an Appalachian mountain peak housing an A & G Coal Corporation mountain top removal operation on April 16 in Wise County, Va.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Blowing up mountains

An explosive is detonated on April 16 on an Appalachian mountain peak, home of an A & G Coal Corporation mountaintop removal operation in Virginia's Wise County.

 

This strip mine is one of two that threaten the water supply of nearby towns — including Lynch, which lies less than 30 miles away. Mountaintop removal mining has destroyed hundreds of mountain peaks and at least 1,200 miles of streams in the Appalachians, and remains a hotly contested issue between environmentalists and coal companies.

 

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A group of teenage boys jump for a basketball while playing on a small court surrounded by mountains at either side in Lynch on April 16.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Life in Appalachia

A group of teenage boys jump for a basketball on April 16, playing on a small court in Lynch that is surrounded by mountains.

 

In the 1940s, this Kentucky town boasted a population of more than 10,000 people, but following the increased mechanization of the coal mining process, the town’s population has dwindled in recent years to less than 900 people.

 

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