OURAY – When a rural mining community closes its mines, the economic gap created can be hard to overcome. To help such communities successfully make the transition, the Western Hardrock Watershed Team provides important capacity-building support.
This past week, over 60 volunteers for WHWT gathered in Ouray for three days of training on the basics of water monitoring and organizational management. A number of the participants were from AmeriCorps VISTA, the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. VISTA members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, and address anything from improving health services to strengthening community groups.
“We chose to meet in Ouray because of its deep history with abandoned mine land issues and because of some of the examples it has set to other communities on similar issues,” said Torie Bowman, WHWT’s support coordinator, who is based in Hotchkiss.
Bowman said the team has five core goals that shape the projects of VISTA volunteers. The first is capacity building, including grant writing, fundraising and event planning. Second, the volunteers monitor the watershed in their area.
“This is not only monitoring the water on a scheduled basis, but organizing volunteers to assist and assure that the monitoring continues after the VISTA is gone,” Bowman said.
Goals also include education/outreach to communities and the development of alternative economies when mining is no longer feasible such as recreation, tourism or environmental restoration job opportunities.
Currently, there are 17 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working with WHWT in watersheds in Lake City, Crested Butte, Hotchkiss, Creed, and Silverton. Just this week, Andrew Madison, a Ridgway-based VISTA volunteer, began working with the Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership on their Uncompahgre River watershed plan.
This week’s training came a little more than a week after President Obama signed into law The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which will triple the number of positions in the AmeriCorps program, from 75,000 to 250,000, by 2017.
“Our program in AmeriCorps VISTA as a whole is really looking into the future with this administration and the bill recently passed,” Bowman said. “Additionally, with the Economic Recovery Act, the Western Hardrock Watershed Team has the opportunity to add 12 new members to the team this summer, and in the long term we are looking to expand our work into other western states.”
Bowman said two community members from New Mexico attended the training in Ouray in “preparation for expanding the Hardrock Team into New Mexico.”
For more information about the WHWT and its projects or volunteer opportunities visit www.hardrockteam.org.