WESTERN SAN JUANS – Two offices of Surface Mining VISTAs assigned by the Western Hardrock Watershed Team are doing their part helping to tackle environmental and social issues in Ouray and San Miguel counties, dedicating time to aiding local nonprofit organizations.
Emily Galanto and Emily Kuehn, two AmeriCorps VISTA members (Volunteers in Service to America) working in Ouray and San Miguel counties, were placed with local nonprofits through the Western Hardrock Watershed Team. The team matches VISTA members with organizations in historic mining communities around Colorado and New Mexico, providing help to communities offering the skills and capacity needed to make their communities and watersheds better places to live and work.
In Ouray County, Galanto is the area’s fourth VISTA member, working particularly with the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. Since its inception in 2007, the UWP has focused its attention on its Uncompahgre Watershed Plan, which focuses on improving water quality (lowering levels of heavy metals, salts and nutrients), creating/improving recreational opportunities on the river and improving overall ecosystem health in the entire watershed.
Galanto, who holds a degree in environmental biology from the University of Connecticut, is partnering with Ridgway State Park to expand the River Watch program, organizing tours of area mines and built education programs for the Ridgway River Festival last month. She hopes to draft an environmental curriculum for schools in Ouray County as well.
For UWP Director Agnieszka Przeszlowska, Galanto’s outreach efforts facilitate moving the Uncompahgre Watershed Plan from planning stages to implementation. “Emily has been key in helping to do fundraising and being a presence in the community,” Przeszlowska said. “The [VISTAs] are a great face for the community. They are energetic, excited and non-judgmental. They also help build partnerships with other organizations, bridging gaps and identifying collaborations.”
The UWP has been instrumental in the Rollans Park riparian restoration project in Ridgway, working toward earning an EPA 319 non-point source grant to identify sites that could be reclaimed in the headwaters of the Uncompahgre Watershed.
Przeszlowska points out that much of the work the UPW has accomplished is thanks to hard work from the Western Hardrock Watershed Team and the volunteers it has placed with the organization.
“Last year, the UWP was on shaky ground,” Przeszlowska said. [Former OSM/VISTA] Matt Jurjonas did a lot of work to secure funding for staff positions through the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety and to give the organization more structure. This spring we’ve moved forward with the watershed plan, completed the quality assessments, and we can expand our outreach efforts too… not just to kids, but to adults who want to know more about the history of this area.”
While VISTA members have found an active role in the Ouray County community (and the entire Uncompahgre Watershed) over the past several years, EcoAction Partners, based in San Miguel County (but works in Ouray County as well) is benefitting from Western Hardrock Watershed Team-placed VISTA members as well.
Kuehn started with EcoAction Partners as a summer intern, but her enthusiasm and skillset encouraged the organization to apply for a VISTA position to bring her on full-time. In her year with EcoAction Partners, Kuehn has remodeled the organization’s website, helped with branding/marketing efforts, and, according to EcoAction Partners Director Kris Holstrom, “brings skillsets we don’t necessarily have.”
Kuehn brings with her an impressive resume, including degrees in neuroscience and philosophy. She was immediately drawn to EcoAction Partners’ local food initiatives and reaching out to all of San Miguel County, not just Telluride.
“It’s easy to look at Telluride and think that there’s no poverty here, that nobody is struggling, but that’s not the case,” Holstrom said. “Telluride, particularly the West End, has a need for our organization. Emily has helped us complete a food assessment of the area, develop a stronger market, and help producers access that market.”
In addition to local food initiatives, she helps with the group’s EcoAction Initiative, a residential energy efficiency program that helps area homeowners identify simple solutions to save energy and money. EcoAction members conduct walk-throughs and energy assessments for anyone in the Telluride area; audits are $75 but assistance is always provided for those who can’t meet the initial cost.
“I was given big projects to work on right out of college… experiences I couldn’t have gotten otherwise,” Kuehn said. “There aren’t many jobs or places where I would’ve gotten this kind of opportunity and also feel really good about the work I’m doing. It’s pushed me to meet deadlines and realize what I’m capable of, what I can accomplish, and what nonprofits can accomplish.”
For more information about the Western Hardrock Watershed Team and its initiatives, visit hardrockteam.org.
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