Over thirty community leaders and environmental restoration professionals from across Colorado came to Paonia for WSCC’s workshop, “Gravel Mine to Green Space: Community-Directed Approaches to Mine Reclamation and River Restoration.” Workshop participants learned the history of the Paonia River Park, from its former use as an in-stream gravel mine to the early stages of park planning to technical aspects of river restoration to our plans for the future.
On Thursday, June 1 we focused on how the Paonia River Park came to be, with presentations from several key Paonia River Park players. Jeff Crane, river restoration practitioner and first Executive Director of NFRIA, taught participants the background of the North Fork of the Gunnison, and how the park went from a “moonscaped” gravel mine to a thriving riparian corridor. Teresa Shishim, owner of Yoka Design and former ED of NFRIA talked about the initial planning phases of the park, and highlighted our educational signage and design themes. Cedar Keshet-Fowler, local artist and former AmeriCorps VISTA for WSCC, talked about the importance of the VISTA program and how the river park was designed to be an outdoor classroom for students. Ira Houseweart of MetalWorks, LLC wowed participants with his incredible works of art at the park, including the entrance gateway, viewing platform, and ADA ramp, all outfitted with intricately fabricated riparian critters. We also heard from Jason Burkey, environmental/resource manager at Oldcastle Materials SW Group/United Companies, on the history and evolution of gravel mining and reclamation practices. Workshop attendees toured the river park, witnessing first-hand the product of 15+ years of community planning and implementation. We ended Day 1 with a reception at the beautiful Wisehart Springs Inn, where participants networked while enjoying local refreshments.
Day 2 focused on other community-directed approaches to environmental stewardship, recreation, and economics. The day began with a summary on 17 years of WSCC’s River Watch program by Jake Hartter, our Watershed Coordinator. We then had presentations and a panel discussion featuring 3 different communities currently conducting restoration projects: Emma Reesor, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project; Sam Wallace, AmeriCorps VISTA at the Purgatorie Watershed Partnership, and Guinevere Nelson, Executive Director at the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee. They shared their experiences conducting projects that enhanced the environment while addressing diverse community needs. Key themes included funding, leveraging partnerships, volunteer recruitment, lessons learned, and much more. Our lunch practicum by John Giordanengo, Principal Restoration Ecologist at AloTerra Restoration Services, focused on technical details of engineering diverse wetland ecosystems. The Friday afternoon session started with a discussion on how to sustainably manage the park, led by Neil Schweiterman, former Mayor of Paonia. Finally, the workshop concluded with a community input session, where we heard the importance of the park from the community’s perspective, featuring local realtor Patti Kaech.
Thank you so much to all of our sponsors, supporters, speakers, and attendees, and all who made the workshop a success!