After witnessing a devastating January 1969 oil spill in California, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson began an initiative to have college campuses provide teach-in demonstrations across the country.
He and other organizers chose April 22, 1970, a weekday halfway between Spring Break and final exams in the hopes it would draw the most possible attendance. The response to the first Earth Day was so positive from an environmental standpoint that it was the impetus behind the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous pieces of legislation, including the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Education Act, among others.
Fifty years later, we mark Earth Day 2020 in the midst of some not-so-normal circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many to stay at home, and yet more than ever, our outdoor resources are critical in providing the therapy we need to pull through this time of chaos and confusion. If nothing else, we should have a better appreciation for the many benefits of the environment.
You don't need to be a senator with a big idea to make an impact. Each person, each family, doing at least one thing new to help make a difference can spark a ripple effect felt around your home, community and our watershed.
So, what can you do to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and help do your part to make our environment a little cleaner for the next generation of potential river-based stewards? Here are some ideas:
1. Watch videos where people who have a passion for the environment share their stories and can help inspire you to take a similar stand. Meet our new riverkeeper, John Zaktansky, in this video from his earliest days on the job. Also, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association shared this morning a video highlighting our four current board members and their personal stories of getting involved and what Earth Day means to them. Check out the video here:
2. Take the family outdoors for a hike, fishing trip or overall exploration event in the back yard. You'd be amazed at what you can find ... and how valuable it can be if you let your children take the lead on these sort of adventures. Take time to look up new critters, trees, rocks or other features you don't recognize. Make it a scavenger hunt type experience.
During this adventure, take photos and share them with us ... our special photo and poetry contest is still accepting entries through April 30 with prizes to be awarded in three different age categories. Hand the camera to your kids and let them go to town ... you might be surprised at what they capture. Find out more about our contest here.
3. Extend your outdoor adventure when getting back in the house by writing a poem or creating an outdoors drawing or painting. We are accepting poems in our current contest through April 30. For details, click here.
And for those who feel compelled to do a drawing or painting from your outdoor adventure, renowned outdoors artist Ken Hunter has a few tips for you.
4. Not ready to brave the outdoor elements, but want to further your family's understanding of a watershed and some of the dangers associated with pollution? Check out our series of educational videos called "Study the Susquehanna." These are all experiments using everyday household items that help us better understand our environmental impact. Check out the series so far by clicking here.
5. Looking for additional ways to educate your family on our river-based resources this summer? Check out our tentative series of Floating Classrooms aboard the Hiawatha Paddleboat in Williamsport. Obviously, we are carefully monitoring the coronavirus situation and some dates may need to be tweaked depending on how things go, but for the time being, we are taking pre-registrations for five classes looking at the history of the river, water-based safety tips and overview sessions about the waterfowl, raptors and fish of the watershed. A lineup of some of the region's best outdoor educators is set, and the venue is one of the coolest places to have class. Find out more by clicking here.
6. If you spend some time on the water fishing for trout, bass or other species, you can make an impact simply by taking a photo of your catch and importing it into our new Water Reporter app. This gives us data that helps track where potential issues are forming in our watershed and helps keep us all connected. Check out more details on how to report your catches ... and see the interactive map of reports we've received so far ... by clicking here.
7. Do you have stories from the river (or its tributaries) that you'd like to share? Maybe you'd like to volunteer your time or relay a pollution concern within our watershed? We are still accepting responses to our popular 2020 Susquehanna Survey. Find out more and share your feedback by clicking here.
8. You can make an impact around your corner of the community by taking some time to pick up litter. Obviously, be mindful of social distancing and wear appropriate safety apparel such as gloves and a bright shirt if near a roadway. One young man, Daniel Foreman, a fifth-grader from Middleburg, recently picked up some trash and in the process, inspired this response from our Riverkeeper on the EPA's announcement to scale back sanctions for environmental violations.
9. Something you can do at home to conserve water is complete a water audit. Check your faucets for leaks and toilets for any incomplete shut-offs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a faucet leaking at one drip per second can waste 259 gallons of water every month.
10. Start your garden. While there is still a real chance of frost (like many of us in the state had last night), you can still work up the ground and plant seeds in trays in the house (you can even use empty egg cartons as cheap seed starters) that will produce plants in time for frost-free planting in a few weeks.
11. Start a composting program. There are a number of composting units available online, or you can make your own. Composting trash cuts back drastically on what winds up in landfills, and provides rich organic soil that can augment the garden you started in Suggestion No. 10!
12. Create an Earth Day jar -- complete with strips of paper with suggestions of ways you can improve the environment as a family over the next year. Every so often, pull a slip out of the jar and make a family priority.
13. Organize your recyclables. Many recycling centers are closed at the moment during the virus situation ... but you can be sorting out recyclables and creating new bins that help you weed out items that can be reused and save our landfills.
14. Do in-home recycling with the kids. There are countless online ideas and videos of how you can recycle common items in your home into something useful -- from toys to jewelry and other things. Here is one video to get you started.
15. The Museum of Natural History in New York is hosting a day-long online festival with workshops on topics from how to plant a garden to the physics of glaciers to how to make musical instruments out of recyclable materials. Check it out here.
16. Take time to unsubscribe to print catalogs that you no longer really look at. We currently use more than 100 million trees to produce junk mail and catalogs. The website catalogchoice.org can help you get off mailing lists.
17. Turning off the water between wetting your toothbrush and rinsing is one of the simplest, yet effective, ways to save water on a regular basis. The University of Illinois calculates that shutting off the tap instead of continuously letting it run during teeth brushing time will save your family upwards of 10 gallons of water per day.
18. Plant a tree. Earth Day seems synonymous with tree planting programs, and there are countless benefits to repopulating our trees, including the habitat they provide for pollinators, birds and other critters and the air they help filter. For advice on how to properly plant a tree, check out the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's Tree Talk videos.
19. Stormwater runoff is one of the biggest transporters of non-point source pollution and can wreak havoc with sedimentation issues. Improve your property's stormwater runoff with this tool from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
20. Inspire others! When doing any of these activities -- or others -- share your efforts via photos and/or videos on your personal social media outlets. You never know when one of your friends or followers may take inspiration from the example you are setting this Earth Day!
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.