The Appalachian Coal Country Team and Western Hardrock Watershed Team, Office of Surface Mining, Washington, DC
Project Point of Contact
The Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) and Western Hardrock Watershed Team (WHWT), known as the OSM VISTA Teams, assist rural communities impoverished by environmental degradation and its consequences to make their home-place-watersheds healthier places to live and work. The Teams are an innovative partnership among the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), and community improvement groups in rural Appalachia and Rocky Mountain mining regions. The Teams arm community organizations and watershed-based projects with the training, tools and volunteer support necessary to help local citizens become effective environmental stewards, community leaders and accelerators of change in places indelibly marked by the environmental legacy of pre-regulatory mining. Together, the Teams and their partners are propelling a new economy based on conservation and development, strong partnerships, engaged citizens and promoting youth in the outdoors.
The Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) began in 2002 by Dr. T Allan Comp of the Office of Surface Mining to provide rural Appalachian coal communities impoverished by the results of environmental degradation the help they needed to make their local watersheds healthier places to live and work. The ACCT now has 31 full-time, college-trained OSM VISTA Volunteers who live and work in the local communities to promote environmental and social change at a grassroots level. The WHWT was founded in 2006 to emulate the successes of the ACCT and now has 14 OSM VISTAs volunteering in Colorado and New Mexico.
The OSM VISTA Teams place volunteers in communities to build capacity, empower citizens and community volunteers, and create a network of support that otherwise would not exist among isolated, rural communities. We use national service as a local solution and bring measurable results to the communities we serve. OSM VISTAs have been developing ad hoc committees and local collaborative groups with participation from concerned citizens, local businesses and political decision-makers, and agencies regionally and statewide to identify economic and environmental problems and their sources. Through these grassroots engagements, communities implement successful projects and develop citizen-driven solutions by working with leaders in the community who will support these projects in the long-term future. Striving for sustainability, the Teams build capacity by recruiting and training community volunteers who are invested locally and able to continue addressing recovery and revitalization in their own communities. To guide the Volunteers in their service, the Teams have developed 5 core goals:
- Build Local Capacity
- Engage Economic Redevelopment
- Promote Environmental Stewardship
- Enhance Outreach and Education
- Promote Professional Development
In Fiscal Year 2010, the Teams partnered with 76 sponsor sites. The partnerships consist of information- and resource-sharing and training provided by OSM and VISTA for supervisors and OSM VISTAs to take back to their communities. Semi-annual trainings and cost shares to provide the year-long OSM VISTAs to community organizations have received support from the Appalachian Regional Commission and State AML programs. EPA Brownfields representatives participate in each training providing information and guidance on applying for Brownfields grants appropriate for each community as well as examples of funded Brownfields projects from within the Team.
Since 2007, the OSM VISTA Teams have been offering 8-10 week Summer Interns to organizations and agencies to take on projects that vary from water monitoring, creating outdoor classrooms, conducting outreach, and focusing on the Teams five core goals. This summer, the OSM VISTA Teams will coordinate more than 60 interns.
The EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds awarded funding to the OSM VISTA Teams to support the Volunteers for Rural Watersheds Research Project in 2008, a project pioneering research about volunteers in rural communities. The OSM VISTA Teams conducted research on volunteerism methods to look at motivations, concerns, demographics and behaviors of rural watershed volunteers while simultaneously evaluating 25 volunteer management approaches. With this project, the OSM VISTA Teams is developing tools and resources to make volunteerism work better for rural watershed and community groups.
The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) became another partner for the OSM VISTA Teams in 2009. ARRI was established in 2004 to develop and advocate for a technique to reforest Appalachia and reclaim abandoned mine lands. In 2010, the partnership with ARRI helped the OSM VISTA Teams and their community volunteers plant over 150,000 tree seedlings at 16 sites in six states covering 210 acres.
Results and Achievements
The success of the OSM VISTA Teams is being proven by the on-the-ground results the OSM VISTAs produce. In the past year alone, OSM VISTAs working with their neighbors in the East and West have:
- Logged 335,178 hours by volunteers (1,423% increase in FY 2010)
- Generated $1,890,941 in-kind resources (138% increase in FY 2010)
- Improved 1,116 acres of public land through reforestation and tree plantings, erosion control projects, fire hazard reduction measure and more (previously not measured)
- Improved 352 miles rivers and trails through cleaning, improving, or creation (previously not measured).
Some examples of how our Teams address some of the initiatives called for in Executive Order 13514 are conserving and protecting water resources through efficiency, reuse, and stormwater management, eliminating waste, recycle, and preventing pollution. Three of our OSM VISTAs initiated stormwater management and reuse projects in their communities by developing demonstrations using rain barrels and their benefits and even turned these projects into fundraisers for their communities with rain barrel painting contests. In the past year, OSM VISTAs in 76 communities have collected 29,901 tons of waste and recyclable materials through river and community clean-ups and recycling drives. The Teams have raised funds for, installed, and maintained treatment systems for acid mine drainage in their rivers and streams. For three years now, the Support Offices of the OSM VISTA Teams purchase carbon credits for training and encourage carpooling to and from trainings. The Appalachian office received funding to create a demonstration area for environmentally-conscious practices including a rain barrel which feeds water into a wetland area and garden, and a green roof doghouse demonstration.
Our OSM VISTA Teams are committed to community revitalization. One of our OSM VISTAs in Thomas, WV coordinated a team of volunteers to build foot-bridges and trails in downtown Thomas to encourage healthy outdoor recreation and attract visitors. Another OSM VISTA who served in Saguache, CO, the lowest per capita income in Colorado with 30% of the population living below the poverty line, worked on economic development and creating a sustainable community by coordinating energy audits and planning workshops explaining energy efficient and renewable energy programs to the citizens of Saguache.
In 2010, the OSM VISTA Teams helped the Department of the Interior answer the call from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for youth engaged in meaningful environmental work by engaging 198 youth as OSM VISTAs and Summer Interns. The OSM VISTA teams are great examples of what can be accomplished when we enlist youth as stewards of the Nations resources, said Secretary Salazar at a Partnership for Public Service ceremony in May 2010 honoring Dr. Comp for his coordination of the Teams. These OSM VISTAs work with diverse populations to provide new insight and ideas to propel their organizations forward, allowing organizations to build for the future.
We know we can replicate this model because we already did so. With the creation of the Western Hardrock Watershed Team in the Rocky Mountain West in 2006, the OSM VISTA teams replicated the model of success provided by the Appalachian Coal Country Team. The model could be expanded dramatically to include rural America and not just mining communities but communities with environmental issues related to the lack of surface water availability in the southwest and air and water quality issues stemming from various manufacturing plants, for example. The Teams have recently submitted a proposal to The Corps Network for a new Team of Volunteers doing exactly this sort of work nationally. We are the only project of this kind offering training and providing resources to a Team of partners and neighbors in rural communities with histories of environmental degradation. The expansion of our existing Team or replicability of the OSM VISTA Teams with another Team is essential as the need in rural disenfranchised communities for volunteer and funding support rises.