Creede and Mineral County were historically inhabited by Native Americans. Evidence indicates that Paleo-Indians used the area seasonally but did not build permanent settlements. Later, in the 1300’s CE, Utes called the area home. The two Ute bands that were present in what is now Mineral County were the Weeminuche and the Capote. While both bands still live in Colorado — as part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Tribe, respectively — they were pushed out of the Creede area in 1873 when the U.S. Government acquired Mineral County for mining purposes.

It wasn’t until 1889 that Nicholas Creede found considerable silver ore deposits in the Creede area, sparking a boom in mining from 1890-1893. During this time, the town ballooned to 15,000 residents with intensive mining operations scattered throughout the Willow Creek Watershed. The Creede Mining District remained active for almost a century with the intensity of activity closely tied to the rise and fall of silver prices. Eventually, mining ended in 1985, though active claims remain.

The aftermath of almost 100 years of mining operations left a toll on the environmental, economic, and social resilience of Creede. Unstable tailings piles, waste rock laden with heavy metals, decreased economic opportunity, decrepit mining structures, impaired wildlife habitat, and flood and fire risk are just some of the resulting consequences.

In 1991, Willow Creek was placed on the 303(d) list for Impaired Waters by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In an effort to restore and reclaim impacted mining sites without federal intervention, the community-led Willow Creek Reclamation Committee (WCRC) was formed in 1997. This voluntary, ad hoc committee of diverse and talented individuals from within the County and across the state studied Willow Creek rigorously, collected high quality data, implemented thoughtful solutions, including the capstone project, The Lower Willow Creek Restoration Project from 2012 - 2018. Their work produced numerous reports on the Willow Creek Watershed as well as stream stabilization, mine reclamation, and flood mitigation projects. Despite the effectiveness of the community-driven WCRC work, the EPA ultimately designated the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile a Superfund Site in 2008, the status of which remains unchanged. The Nelson Tunnel site is listed because it is a point source contributor of high levels of acid mine drainage directly into Willow Creek.

In 2016, Guinevere Nelson, long-time Executive Director of WCRC, realized that the informally-structured WCRC would benefit from the establishment of a 501(c)(3) non-profit to ensure ongoing support for work, especially the Nelson Tunnel Superfund Site, Willow Creek, and the upper Rio Grande headwaters. Nelson's vision recognized the intrinsic relationship between environment and economy, seeking to create programming and projects that included restoration, education, and stewardship through community engagement and innovation. And thus, Headwaters Alliance was formed to carry on the legacy of WCRC and to expand the work to include the headwaters of the Upper Rio Grande and to implement strategies the addressed the intrinsic relationship between environment, society and economy.

The community legacy of independence and determination continues to this day. HWA is actively engaged in working creatively and collaboratively with the many vested partners and stakeholders to continue to address the intrinsically linked environmental and economic concerns within the Willow Creek Watershed and the glorious headwaters of the Rio Grande.


Headwaters Alliance will cultivate a sustainable environmental and economic future for the Rio Grande Headwaters through community engagement, restoration, education, and innovation.



We acknowledge that some problems are complex, whether caused by environmental challenges, conflicting needs, financial constraints, power dynamics.  Yet, over and over, we see that when we move towards radical transparency, "the other solution" is more able to arise.  We are committed to practicing open communication, celebratory diversity of people and ideas through active practices of inclusivity and equity, remembering that all humans have the same basic needs while holding to humor, kindness, patience and grace.  


We value the ethical sourced data and research, evaluated through principled discussion. 


As Wendell Berry said, "Do unto others downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."  As the community at the headwaters of the Rio Grande, we are committed to promoting practices, policies and strategies that ensure and preserve water quality and water quantity within a healthy, diverse, ecologically functioning system.


Headwaters Alliance seeks to maximize partnerships to create change by engaging the community in examining and addressing the drivers of environmental change for the social and economic benefit of every living thing. We want to collaborate with YOU!


Our work will inspire stewardship in the hearts of every citizen and visitor such that the ecological integrity of the area is protected from profligate action, with the understanding the environmental and economic sustainability and resiliency can be mutually compatible. We support and utilize the ethics of Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly.


We believe the Creede community is dedicated to leaving a thriving Creede and Mineral County for our great grandchildren's great grandchildren. Therefore, we fearlessly engage in new and creative thinking and solutions to foster the necessary social and economic changes to secure environmental health. 


Headwaters Alliance
PO Box 518
625 USFS Rd 504.1A
Creede CO 81130


© Copyright Headwaters Alliance