Attention Watershed Groups: Tools for Working with Volunteers

Watershed groups work across Colorado and around the county to clean contaminated water, reforest burn or mine-scarred lands, monitor water quality and implement other projects to revitalize, engage and restore their communities. In many cases they have few resources and rely on the commitment and leadership of local volunteers to get things done—volunteers who are often driven by a deep devotion to the cause or by the simple fact that if they don’t do something, no one else will.

When volunteer management is pushed to the end of a long to-do list, new volunteers are not informed of what they can do next or how they can become more involved, and consequently donate their time elsewhere. In rural communities—where a small population also means a small volunteer pool—watershed groups can’t afford to lose volunteers as a result of poor management.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have rural volunteer management guidelines that watershed groups could use to accomplish more? Or a resource telling rural watershed groups where others have recruited volunteers, engaged them and celebrated them? Now we have just that.

The OSM/VISTA Teams just completed a pioneering research project on rural volunteerism and created the Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers to share approaches to volunteer recruitment, management and retention that are successful in rural settings.  More importantly, it contains one-of-a-kind tools needed by rural volunteer-based groups to build sustainable volunteer management practices within their organizations.  Readers are guided through the larger process of bringing volunteers into their organization and keeping them there—all with the least amount of time, people and money.

OSM/VISTA Amy Weinfurter and her supervisor Anthony Poponi of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition near Crested Butte, Colorado

Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) in Crested Butte was one of six organizations in Colorado that participated in the research behind the Toolkit. CCWC wanted to work with community service volunteers to perform crucial remediation work: watering re-vegetated slopes and maintaining other Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce erosion along Coal Creek. Various erosion control measures extend across an eight-mile stretch of the watershed. This work required volunteer help beyond CCWC’s capacity making volunteers crucial to the success of the remediation project and the health of the watershed.

CCWC first secured status as a participating non-profit organization in Gunnison County’s Alternative Services program– seeking volunteers who were mandated to serve the community. CCWC outlined their project to recruit volunteers for the summer, then set up a process of finding and screening volunteers to gauge their comfort with outdoor work. CCWC then began working with community service volunteers to install erosion-reducing BMPs along Kebler Pass Road. Installing these erosion control measures requires large teams of people in order to be successful. The community service volunteers became instrumental in helping staff and contractors reach an appropriate number of participants. The community service volunteers were also helpful in teaching new participants how to install the BMPs.

Contact Jenna Fehr at for more information on the Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers.

Or watch this video to learn more about watershed groups on the Colorado River.  [vimeo]

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