From ‘Almost Heaven’ to ‘Almost Hell’

Lewis County resident planning on selling historic farm to leave West Virginia and escape fracking

By Michael M. Barrick

June 17, 2015
Post Script: Myra Bonhage-Hale moved from her farm earlier this month to return to her native Maryland. She is among the countless number of West Virginians that have become refugees from the fracking industry. – M. Barrick

Note: This is the fourth installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

A banner displaying the word 'peace' in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale
A banner displaying the word ‘peace’ in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale, who 34 years ago found peace on her farm in the high rolling hills of western Lewis County, has put her historic property on the market. The reason? The planned development of nearly 300 fracking sites near her property. As she told the Lewis County Commission Oct. 6 in an impassioned presentation, she began, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.”

A visit to her farm the week before seemed to foreshadow her remarks. Along one of her walking paths, which has rocks with various small, polished stones embedded in them, one of the rocks was missing its stone. The missing stone said Peace.

Standing in the middle of a garden behind her home on the 110 acre farm, Bonhage-Hale offered, “This is who I am.” Then, alluding to fracking, she added, “It just seems horrible that somebody can come along and devastate this.”

Sign on the front entrance of La Paix
Sign on the front entrance of La Paix

Moving from her art studio, where she also stores herbal products that she makes from her gardens, out into another garden, she shared, “You could sit in the woods an hour a day for the rest of your life and see something new every day.” As if on cue, while she was talking, a number of birds high up in a nearby oak tree starting raising a ruckus. She and a neighbor, Barbara Volk, discussed the various species of birds that they could identify and speculated at what might be making them agitated. Determining it was too late in the year for snakes to be going after a nest, Bonhage-Hale speculated, “I guess they sense, too, that the peace is gone.”

Indeed, even the clamoring of the birds was disturbed by a helicopter flying overhead. “They fly over all the time,” said Bonhage-Hale. “I think they’re taking pictures. It’s very disturbing and intimidating. It is arrogance on display.”

The party moved into the living room of her home. A brief philosophical discussion was held. The prospect of moving was raised. Volk expressed understanding and Bonhage-Hale offered, “I don’t think we can stop this, but we can try.”

The next day, however, Bonhage-Hale registered her home with a real estate agent.

Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio
Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio

Then, a few days later, she was at the county commission meeting, inundating them with research about the harms of fracking. She said, “I have worked hard to make La Paix – its beautiful gardens, woods, wild life, 1890 Victorian Farmhouse with attached Log Cabin (circa 1850) – what it could always be. I was able to put my blood, sweat, tears, laughter, joy, love and peace into what it is today. We have had apprentices from West Virginia colleges earn credits in Environmental Studies, apprentices from Japan, India and elsewhere, a Lavender Fair for nine years, workshops, and serene surroundings. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.”

She added, “Until just recently, I planned to live here for forever and be able to give its beauty to my children, Bill and Kathleen, and my granddaughter, Aijah.” Continuing, she said, “There is one way in and one way out Crooked Run. This means if drilling is done here it will be difficult for children to get to school, others to get to work and in medical emergencies.”

Pointing out that a surveyor for a gas company had marked the road with red flags, she offered, “So I have here some green flags – green for the earth, green for sustainability, and green for love that grows.” She explained, “The first flag is Respect. We little people, who only own the surface rights, who are here to enjoy nature, our families and each other – we don’t get much respect.”

She continued, “The second green flag is for Resist. Recent reports indicate fracking may indeed be more dangerous for the environment and lead to global warming at rates much higher than previously thought. It pollutes water supplies, kills wildlife and destroys the quality of life in communities where it takes place.” She then offered the three commissioners websites and other resources they could research to verify her claims.

She revealed, “Ohioans are beginning to realize that unconventional shale drilling uses a great deal of water, permanently ruining it for other uses. But what they may not know is fracked gas and oil wells in Ohio are turning out to be less productive over time, with more water needed so the effects of water usage are rising. Now, each time a Utica well is fracked in Ohio, over seven million gallons of water is needed on average per well. Cumulative effects are being seen, as water loss is expected to be 18.5 billion gallons in the next five years.” She also cited numerous studies that show that property values in other states where fracking is taking place are plummeting.

Her third flag was for Renew. “This is what we could be doing instead – for clean energy, for eco tourism and for a sustainable economy. Pointing to another study released just the previous week, she revealed, “Solar energy could the be largest source of global electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to two new reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA).” She continued, “We are destroying our landscape in the name of quick profits for a few people.”

As she concluded her presentation to the commissioners, she momentarily lost her composure. Turning from the podium, her voice quivering, she said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.

© Michael Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.


  1. There is something to be said about the freedom to make your own decisions. Would she prefer a 20 acre solar farm on her property or would she move because of that also? The “rules” have effected her negatively. She made the free decision to move rather than stay and fight to change the “rules.”

    • A solar farm would not turn the community into a resource colony. Fracking will. A solar farm will not menace the groundwater or subject residents to endless dangerous traffic. Fracking will. Flying around on helicopters to drop their seismic equipment, etc—Ms. Bonhage -Hale is right: it is arrogance. If these gas industry people weren’t Americans we’d consider what they are doing to rural communities an invasion.

      Instead, for the sake of profits for the few, we are willing to ask good people to leave a community, to make room for an industrial scourge. Ms. Bonhage-Hale and her family deserve better.

    • That’s a load of New Age nonsense, blaming the victim. I suppose she chose the fracking?

      Freedom is contingent on available options.

  2. Stephen, the problem here is that it is not freedom of choice that is being exercised here. There is a quality of life that for some of us is a necessity. I’m not sure which rules you are speaking of, but there are supposed to be rules that protect the rights of surface owners. Those rules are being ignored with arrogance and impudence.
    It is not a choice when your insurance company will no longer insure your property because of fracking. It is not a choice when your property value drops because of fracking. It is not a choice that is being willingly made. It is a choice that is being forced.
    This article brought tears to my eyes.

  3. Cows can put more waste and in the water more than frac. NO FRACK,, no (K) in Frac, anyway are water lines 3000 to 5000 below ground? NO but the cows crap will run off in all the streams and creeks near by. People this is NOT NEW!! It has been going on for over 60 years…. Frac is not a new game they are playing. Sorry if it steps on anyones toes but just sorta had to vent. Most are NOT educated in the Coil Tubing, Frac, Cement, Wireline,Drilling thats OK… Keep Calm and Drll On!

  4. Sorry to each their own and I am sorry for the post, Hope she finds new peace if she leaves. Nuff said.

  5. Karen, we have not been fracking like this for last 60 years. I am sooo sooo tired of hearing this bull from the pro-fracking crowd. This type of hydraulic fracturing has only been around since the late nineties and NEVER in this quantity. And the number of wells has skyrocketed in the last 4 years. That’s the real problem. Its the scale of it.

    I’d love for you go up Meathouse, Canton, and any of the hundred of other communities when they are doing a rig move, drilling or fracking, spend a day and night and tell us. Hundreds and hundreds of trucks, in and out all day (except when school buses are running), traffic jams on roads that may have had 20 cars a day prior to the invasion, the constant pounding of the rig motors, the beep beep beep of trucks backing up, the smells from the diesel trucks idling, the diesel motors driving the rigs and tell us to get over it. All of this is happening in what was once quiet little backwood areas. Now they are industrial facilities, tearing up the roads, polluting the water (all the creeks run muddy after any little rain) and ruining our quality of life.

    Tell it to the 12 people that had their wells contaminated the other day when Antero drilled into a producing well. Oh yea, lets trust the companies to do it right, they are the experts.

    Again, we have not been fracking like this for 60 years. (Actually we’ve been fracking since the beginning) This is a whole completely different beast.

    Oh, if you do come out, watch your ass on Rt. 50, all those crazy gas field drivers may kill you. Seriously. Look at the all the skid marks, fuel stains, etc showing the sites of the wrecks and near wrecks. And it only gets worse on the 1 and 2 lane roads. See the Rt 20 wreck two weeks ago where the four guys from Arkansas drifted across the centerline when the driver was texting and ran head-on into another pickup.

    I too am going to sell prior to the drilling gets here. I want to get the full value out of my house. Few people want to live in a area being drilled, unless of course you have the mineral rights, then the hell with everyone else.

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