The OSM/VISTA Teams are a partnership among the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and community/watershed improvement organizations. The OSM/VISTA Teams place, coordinate and train OSM/VISTAs who live and work in host communities to promote economic redevelopment, community engagement and environmental stewardship. The Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) sponsors OSM/VISTA Volunteers throughout seven states in the Appalachian coalfields, while the Western Hardrock Watershed Team (WHWT) sponsors OSM/VISTA Volunteers who live and work in the hardrock mining belt of Colorado and New Mexico.
In the Appalachian coalfields, the acidic and metals-laden water coats streambeds with orange sediment, destroys aquatic habitat and renders waterways useless as economic and community resources. Hastily built sewage infrastructure sends untreated sewage directly into creeks, posing a significant threat to human health. In the hardrock mining West, contaminants are in the form of e. coli and metals, such as selenium, copper, iron, and zinc, in local streams. The three million citizens that live within a mile of an abandoned mine site are not only facing these environmental threats, but also overwhelming economic challenges. The average median household income for the counties served by the OSM/VISTA Teams is $28,401 – nearly 33% below the national average of $41,994, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.
The OSM/VISTA Teams believe that restoring local environments is an opportunity for long-term solutions to severe poverty in mining regions, and the foundation for community mobilization and economic redevelopment in communities. OSM/VISTAs work side-by-side with volunteers in local community/watershed improvement organizations to support community revitalization and engagement efforts.
At the completion of a three-year OSM/VISTA project, community groups and local volunteers are better suited to achieve their missions, striving to make rural communities healthier places to live and work. In spite of the barriers to volunteerism in the isolated and rural communities of Appalachian coal country and the Western hardrock mining region, a massive volunteer effort is happening for the betterment of mine-scarred watersheds. Thousands of volunteers contribute countless hours of service to support rural organizations. Whether described as stakeholders, engaged citizens or simply volunteers, concerned and active local people are essential to solving the myriad of problems presented in rural, under-resourced, environmentally degraded communities.