Our nation’s annual Earth Day celebration came about around the same time as the James River Park System – 1970. It only makes sense, then, that we see so much love for the Park from so many volunteers in the days around April 22nd.
Earth Day grew from seeds planted by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was a big conservationist and served two terms as Wisconsin’s Governor, and the events of the day drove him to action. He read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring about the effects of pesticides. In 1969, a massive oil spill fouled the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio had become so polluted that it caught fire that same year.
Nelson’s first idea was a massive “teach-in” so that people could learn about our fragile environment and what they could do to protect it. One person intrigued by the idea was a graduate student named Denis Hayes. Hayes met with Nelson, and was asked to begin organizing groups and events. As they began planning, an unassuming man named Julien Koenig stopped by their offices. Koenig was an advertising man from New York’s Madison Avenue. Perhaps his skills could help Hayes and Nelson generate interest in this movement. After some brainstorming, Koenig came up with the designation of “Earth Day.”
“It rhymes with “birthday.” Everybody loves birthdays!”
Koenig, by the way, came up with the American ad for Volkswagen “Think Small.” It’s considered the greatest ad campaign in history.
For a long time, Richmond’s celebration of Earth Day was restricted to April 22nd, with a day of bands, beer, and food on Brown’s Island. As we increasingly recognize the value of our green spaces, however, Earth Day has become more of a call-to-action. Volunteers swarm the Commonwealth for cleanups and beautification projects. And it’s more than just the 22nd.
Our friends at Keep Virginia Beautiful like to say “Earth Day Every Day.” We like that.
Superintendent Bryce Wilk came across a ton of volunteers in the James River Park System in the days around Earth Day. They were picking up litter, cleaning the riverbanks, building trails, and more.
How will you celebrate Earth Day every day?