Jason Willis, Mine Restoration Project Manager, Western Restoration

I grew up about 30 minutes east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It was along the mighty Youghiogheny River that I learned how to fish and developed a passion for outdoor activities.  Summer days were spent fishing for catfish and smallmouth while spring was reserved for trout.  Driving across the state to different fishing spots increased my desire to learn more about the environmental processes and hydrology that composed my local river and stream networks.  I eventually was able to steer these personal interests into a career choice after completing graduate school in the field of Environmental Engineering.  A previous road trip had me longing for a relocation to the West, particularly either Colorado, Montana, or Oregon.  It’s been about 3.5 years since Colorado became home and I started my initial work for TU as a contractor based out of Saguache, Colorado. It was here that I was introduced to the Kerber Creek Restoration Project, which has been one of TU’s most successful abandoned mine clean-up projects in Colorado.  Needless to say, the transition from Pittsburgh to Saguache was quite a shock, but I embraced the Western way of life and became well versed in stream restoration practices and soil improvement.

After 9 months in Saguache and 6 months on Pikes Peak, I was brought on full time for TU in 2012 to work on mine restoration projects with a home base in Salida, Colorado along the Arkansas River.  Being centrally located in Salida allows me to work on projects across the state giving the program wide-reaching capabilities.  The focus of my program is to help restore watersheds affected by historic hardrock mining.  Mining played such a large part in the development of Colorado, and it is evident today by the degraded water and soil quality left behind at these sites.  Specifically, over 80% of Colorado’s most-impaired waterways are a result of past mining operations.  Typically, these are the type of streams where I work to improve stream channel health and adjacent soil quality by raising pH and adding nutrients to the soil.  This process of adding calculated amounts of soil amendments promotes future riparian and upland vegetation growth, which stabilizes stream banks and reduces heavy metal runoff into our surface and ground waters.  The end goal is to meet state standards for water quality in these streams, while improving habitat to sustain a reproducing trout population.

Some watersheds where I currently work are the Kerber Creek watershed outside of Villa Grove, Evans Gulch east of Leadville, Leavenworth Creek outside of Georgetown, Willow Creek near Creede, and a local project on the South Arkansas River in Poncha Springs.  I also assist in water quality studies on various projects, as well as working with watershed groups and TU chapters from Cortez to Trinidad.  I am privileged to work at such a great organization with like-minded people who are passionate about conservation.  I look forward to continuing to expand and improve TU’s restoration work across the state of Colorado for years to come.  If you have any questions or comments about the projects I work on, please don’t hesitate to contact me at jwillis@tu.org.