By: Abby Neff | AmeriCorps VISTA

It’s not unusual for the stories about the watershed program at Rural Action to be connected. It’s a throughline of experiences that started long before the organization was formed, dating back generations.

“I have an article from 1930 or so, and it talks about people at that time being concerned about the biology in Monday Creek. It just blew my mind,” Nate Schlater, the Senior Director of Ecological Restoration at Rural Action, says. “They did know. In 1930, they were aware that this was causing problems that they wanted to address, but it was all pre-regulation.”

Schlater says now grandparents will approach him and say their grandchildren are catching fish in the creek where fish never lived.

“How many generations have gone through that where they didn’t consider the creek an important part of the town?” he says.

Watershed restoration is a project Rural Action has been committed to since the beginning of the organization’s initial efforts in Appalachian Ohio.

Before Mike Steinmaus, the former Watershed Coordinator, was hired in 1999, it was up to AmeriCorps members to clean up Monday Creek. Mary Ann Borch, who serves as the chair of Rural Action’s Board of Directors, was the first AmeriCorps VISTA to begin coordinating the Monday Creek Watershed restoration in 1994.

Watershed restoration is a project Rural Action has been committed to since the beginning of the organization’s initial efforts in Appalachian Ohio.

“I think one of the things that inspired me was the cooperation with agencies but also the VISTA volunteers and the AmeriCorps volunteers that I’ve worked with over the years,” Steinmaus says. “These are the things that are much less talked about. I didn’t accomplish it on my own. I was involved in it, but I had to have that support.”

Steinmaus thinks all the way back to the first AmeriCorps volunteer who served with him, Nora Newberg. He says he knew nothing about what was involved in Appalachian Ohio, but Newberg had served as a VISTA for a year at that point and was able to share her knowledge about the work Rural Action and other organizations had already been doing.

Schlater worked with Steinmaus until the former Watershed Coordinator retired in 2012.

“I like streams. They’re really important to me throughout my entire life,” Schlater says. “That, to me, is the most fun story to tell: biological recovery.”

Michelle Shively MacIver, Director of Project Development for True Pigments, also worked alongside Steinmaus and Schlater. Before she was hired as a staff member in 2011, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Huff Run Watershed in 2006 after graduating from Ohio University.

One story Shively MacIver remembers in particular is of a former “environmental explorer” who was a part of the Huff Run Environmental Explorers Club. The girl and her younger sister lived down the road from the Huff Run Watershed office and would come after school. Shively MacIver even helped with her science project at school. The young girl eventually became an AmeriCorps member at Huff Run and now works for ODNR.

“I’m really proud of her. Sometimes, you plant these seeds as AmeriCorps members… and you don’t always get to see the fruits of the seeds that you plant. Being able to have such a long history with Rural Action, I’ve been really grateful to see some of those seeds not always sprout, but flower,” Shively MacIver says.

Over the past few years, Rural Action’s Watershed Restoration Program has expanded to restoring riparian areas along streams, planting trees that stabilize the bank and increase biodiversity of old pastures or degraded waterways.

Contact the team if you’re interested in volunteering with our tree planting events this spring. We want to add your unique energy and enthusiasm to this long standing restoration effort.