Generations of VISTAs in Grand County |

Generations of VISTAs in Grand County

Alexandra Hill
Special to the Sky-Hi News
Generations of VISTAs

GRAND LAKE – Near Rocky Mountain National Park, Brian Heckman downloads data from the area’s newest rain gage.

As a volunteer for the Grand County Water Information Network, Brian is responsible for the weekly maintenance and data transmission of this unit. As a retired meteorology professor from Metropolitan State in Denver and the Air Force Academy, Heckman knows a thing or two about Colorado weather systems.

“The new gauge is networked through the National Atmospheric Deposition Program,” said Heckman. “It measures rainfall quantity, then we send off wet deposition samples to the University of Illinois to be analyzed for a variety of components that are dissolved in the rain.” Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Grand County started pursuing funding for the gauge more than a year ago; installation was completed two weeks ago.

The unit is expected to help researchers better understand materials transmitted from the atmosphere that end up in the Three Lakes watershed.

Collecting data

“When I retired, I knew I wanted to do volunteer work in the community for an organization that provided reliable, unbiased water and rainfall data. For that type of work in Grand County, GCWIN is who you talk to,” said Heckman. GCWIN is growing as a leader in environmental outreach and science. Their primary work is in data collection and monitoring, but in the last few years the group has partnered with other regional organizations to develop a range of educational programs for citizens of Grand County.

“We’ve utilized volunteers to put these programs together, and they really enhance the quality of what we do for a lot of people,” said Jane Tollett, GCWIN director. “Our Americorps*VISTA volunteer comes from a partnership with the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, a group that matches VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) with environmental organizations around Colorado. The VISTAs commit a full year of service to the organization … they’re very qualified people.”

The Western Hardrock Watershed Team receives funding through AmeriCorps and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to support watershed groups in rural communities.

First OSM/VISTA Alex Brooks “helped us build the foundation of our educational outreach program in Grand County schools.” said Tollett. “He designed ‘Watershed Week,’ an annual school program that gets kids into the outdoors to learn about watershed science. Our second VISTA, Ben Carver, added to the curriculums, helped institutionalize funding for the school programs, and pulled together the training and installation of the NADP monitoring so it could get off to a strong start.

“Our educational programs are important to help us teach more students about the environment they live in as well as open their eyes to possible careers, which everyone can relate to,” she added.

New member

The group’s newest VISTA, Celine Graas, arrived last week, and she’s already hit the ground running with training on monitoring projects and community outreach work.

“It’s important to me that I understand what GCWIN members and the community want and need from GCWIN,” said Graas. “This year, I’ll be solidifying some of our grants, helping enhance the science fair work, and designing a week-long program that gets kids learning even more about science, math, and technology. We want our programs available to all students as well as to help the teachers meet educational standards – and do it outdoors.”

GCWIN’s work and relationship to the VISTA program hasn’t gone unnoticed by Grand County residents. Long-time Grand Lake art teacher Donna Lyons was a VISTA from 1965-1966, and she’s quick to talk about the benefits the program provides to members and organizations.

“Being VISTA was a wonderful experience,” said Lyons. “It made me realize I wanted to be a teacher, and the kind of asset I could be to my community. GCWIN does great work, and their VISTAs enhance that work. It’s a partnership. I’m happy to see young people doing this type of work in Grand County.”

More information

‰ To learn more about GCWIN or to get involved, visit www, or call 970-627-8162.

‰ To learn more about the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, visit or call 970-403-0136.

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