Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)
The History of the OSMRE/VISTA Team
In 2001, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and local community non-profits initiated the, now award-winning, OSMRE/VISTA Team. The first branch of the OSMRE/VISTA Team began in 2001 as the Appalachian Coal Country Team, placing VISTA Volunteers throughout Appalachian states in communities that were impacted by pre-regulatory coal mining practices. Following the success of the Appalachian Coal Country Team, the Western Hardrock Watershed Team was started in 2006 to mimic the positive impact VISTAs have on communities in the western mining states of Colorado and New Mexico. Today the OSMRE/VISTA Team encompasses the Appalachian Coal Country Team, the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, and OSMRE/VISTAs in any of the 26 states in which OSMRE has an Abandoned Mine Land Program.
Engaging Communities through the OSMRE/VISTA Team
The OSMRE/VISTA Team recruits, trains, supports, and coordinates a dynamic group of OSMRE/VISTA Volunteers, Summer Interns and their supervisors who promote social and environmental improvement at the grassroots level. All of our OSMRE/VISTAs are college educated individuals who are committed to finding innovative ways to address environmental degradation and economic development as a method to alleviate poverty in their community.
Community organizations and their OSMRE/VISTAs are equipped with the tools, training, and volunteer-organizing skills necessary to help local citizens become effective environmental stewards, community leaders and accelerators of change in places indelibly marked by the environmental legacy of historic mining. By connecting with the community, OSMRE/VISTAs are able to address one of the goals of OSMRE – working with communities facing environmental degradation and poverty to address issues resulting from unregulated mining.
Together, the OSMRE/VISTA Team and their local partners are fostering a new spirit across the country based on conservation and development, strong partnerships, engaged citizens and new hope.
OSMRE/VISTAs serve rural mining communities impoverished by environmental degradation, working to make their communities cleaner, healthier places to live and work. Whether recruiting and training volunteers to sample water sources, identifying better and more cost efficient engagement strategies for their organizations and their volunteers, creating curricula to connect youth and the environment, or developing grants and other funding opportunities, OSMRE/VISTAs are making a big difference.
During the 2015 fiscal year, the OSMRE/VISTA Team:
OSMRE/VISTA Martin Aksentowitz was recently highlighted by Michigan Tech University as he works to earn his Masters degree and give back to communities in Colorado. For more information visit http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2016/january/classes-plus-americorps-vista-equals-michigan-tech-masters-degree.html.
VISTAs in the Field
OSMRE/VISTA Alexa Kramer learns to take water quality samples of a river impacted by acid mine drainage in Pottsville, PA
OSMRE/VISTA Alexa Kramer learns to take water quality samples of a river impacted by acid mine drainage in Pottsville, PA. Alexa is serving as a second year VISTA at Schuylkill Headwaters Association in Pennsylvania. She is collaborating with local educators to design, develop, and implement an environmental and watershed-based curriculum, specifically focused STEM. Through economic redevelopment projects and increased understanding of local history and culture, Alexa is developing infrastructure and resources contributing to both outdoor education and community revitalization.
As a VISTA in Indiana County, PA at the Crooked Creek Watershed Association, in partnership with the Evergreen Conservancy, Brooke Esarey emphasizes outreach responsibilities for the South Branch of Plum Creek Initiative and uniting neighboring groups to join the Initiative’s “Vision Team.” Through collaboration with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and various partners, Brooke is engaging local businesses to partner with Evergreen (“One Percent for the Planet”), as well as expanding youth environmental education programming (“Project Learning Tree”).
Elisa Dawson is an OSMRE/VISTA serving at Purgatoire Watershed Partnership in Las Anamas, CO. Elisa is cultivating resources and partners to create and initiate a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWWP), and searching for a reliable and accessible market for wood products to provide local jobs and incentives. Developing a CWPP and creating a sustainable market for wood supply would improve environmental health, community safety, and increase economic stimulation in the community. Elisa also seeks to engage with youth in the region to discuss important issues facing their local environment.
OSMRE/VISTA Stephen Norton, serving at the Lake Fork Valley Conservancy in Lake City, CO, is working at the Palmetto Gulch, a tributary affected by acid mine drainage. In an ongoing effort to reclaim the abandoned mine land and engage the community, Stephen is working to design an informational kiosk for the reclaimed Hough Mine site, which will inform passing tourists about the history of the mine, materials mined there, explain old structures, and connect to the present with facts about the recent clean-up and restoration. Additionally, he is working on an effort to re-vegetate the site with native plant species.
Acid Mine Drainage in the Palmetto Gulch runs into nearby streams, affecting the drinking water source of communities in the region
Awards and Honors
The OSMRE/VISTA Teams have been recognized by federal, state, and local entities for their innovative partnerships originally designed to bring environmental and economic improvement to the Appalachian Coalfields and then later to the mining districts in the West.
(L-R) Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Marcilynn Burke, Kelly Kim with OSMRE/Volunteers in Service to America, Deputy Secretary Hayes, OSMRE/VISTA’s Coordinator Dr. T Allan Comp, OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik.
The OSMRE/VISTA Teams have earned the 2012 Partners in Conservation Award from the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The Secretary's award recognizes "exemplary conservation results through public-private cooperation and community engagement." The OSMRE/VISTA Teams were one of seventeen award recipients.