In June of 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted by industrial chemicals that it caught on fire. At the time, our own James River was so polluted that people were discouraged from eating its fish, much less boating or swimming in it.

People became so concerned about pollution in our waters and air that the modern environmental movement was born. In January of 1970, an oil spill in California encouraged an “Environmental Rights Day,” and later that year, over 20 million Americans gathered to celebrate the first “Earth Day” in our parks and public spaces.

Much has changed since then. In 1972, Congress passed (and President Nixon signed) the Clean Waters Act – the first of many modern bills that addressed our planet and climate. We can boat, fish and swim in the James River again. And we still celebrate Earth Day.

Earth Day this year is on April 22nd, and things are certainly different. There will be no celebration of 20 million people. You can’t swim in the James right now, and much of our use of the Park is restricted due to the coronavirus.

You can still, however, celebrate!

Outside Magazine, who voted Richmond America’s Best River Town a few years ago, shared a list of ways that you can still get outside and follow smart rules. It really isn’t that much different than what Superintendent Wilk and others have been saying. If you have a chance to visit the Park – or even if you’re just walking in your neighborhood – use the opportunity to gather any trash that you see. We know that many are using this time to do some deep cleaning of their homes, but do you really need to take that load to the local dump? What do you have that can be recycled and/or donated?

And remember, even if you can’t go out, you can bring the outdoors in! Visit Richmond’s Falcon Cam or Osprey Cam, or follow our State and National Parks on social media for pictures and videos of your favorite spots!

We may not be able to gather this year, but we’re still having Earth Day. After all, isn’t Earth Day every day when you love the James River Park?

Thanks to Dave Parrish Photography for images of Earth Day RVA 2016