(Poster image copyright the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation)
“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity. ... That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”
— Gaylord Nelson, Former Senator and Founder of Earth Day
April 21, 2018 — Earth Day is held around the world, every year, on April 22.
The inspiration for the first Earth Day, held in 1970, was the desire of a small group of academics to establish a day that was dedicated to the idea that the environment on the planet was complex, possibly unique and needed to be protected for future generations.
The first Earth Day has often been referred to as the birthday of the environmental movement in America.
Over the years, Florence has rarely participated in this worldwide effort to raise awareness regarding all types of environmental issues. That will change this Sunday as the community’s first “Earth Day Festival” takes place on the Port of Siuslaw Boardwalk from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Maureen Miltenberger is the chairperson of the Florence Environmental Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) and also one of the coordinators of the festival.
Miltenberger said she is pleased that Florence will be joining more than 1 billion individuals, from 200 countries, in recognizing Earth Day.
More significantly, she is glad that there will be a day in Florence dedicated to informing the public about the challenges facing those that wish to safeguard the environment for the generations to follow.
“We hear so much about pollution, climate and earth related issues on a national and worldwide basis that we wanted to bring awareness and attention to our own environment,” Miltenberger said. “Earth day encompasses the well-being of so many areas of our local everyday life, including our rivers, our forests, the ocean and parklands, as well as wildlife and our own children and grandchildren.”
The theme of this year’s Earth Day events is particularly relevant to local residents, as it touches on a subject that has directly effected most residents of Florence in the past few months.
“Globally this year, Earth Day is focusing on reducing plastic pollution,” Miltenberger said. “This is very timely for the Florence area as we have just had the sudden change in our recycling where we can no longer include any plastics in our co-mingled recycling.
“We realize that there are many groups in our local area who are involved in one way or another with our Earth, and we wanted to provide an annual event to bring us all together.”
The location of the festival is significant as well.
“We will be located outdoors off the boardwalk next to our amazing river,” Miltenberger said. “There will be booths representing many aspects of our environment, including many activities that will involve and educate our children. Also, there will be information on whales, poetry, music, dance, hopefully drums and I even heard rumors about costumes.”
The first “Earth Day” was the brainchild of Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson and took place mostly on college campuses. Nelson was a World War II veteran, a three-term senator and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He envisioned the day as a sort of environmental teach-in and convinced students, faculty and administrators on more than 2,000 campuses across the nation to participate.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Florence had it’s first hint of non-traditional environmental awareness.
Stu Henderson, a recent transplant at the time, thought it might be good for people to take better care of the river and the ocean.
“The water in the river was dirty and there were very few fish or birds around. The pollution created by decades of industrial production had contaminated the Siuslaw River and many locations on the banks of the river, and I just wanted to tell people what was going on, in a mellow way,” he said.
Henderson is now a well-known artist in his own right, but at the time he had just finished working with renowned lithographer, Robert Rauschenberg, in L.A.
Henderson had spent three years learning lithography, a type of printing, while working at the same studio as Rauschenberg. During that time, Rauschenberg created what was to become the iconic poster for the first Earth Day.
A few years later, Henderson and his wife Joanne moved to Florence. The couple were disappointed that there was no local recognition of what had become a major nation-wide event.
So Henderson created a simple, hand-painted poster for Earth Day, and hung it at the end of Bay Street, facing Highway 101.
That was the area’s first Earth Day event.
There were a few attempts at organizing some form of official event over the next three decades, but these efforts never came to fruition in a sustained way.
That will change this year as organizers said the festival is geared towards educating the next generation to the importance of safeguarding the planet from degradation.
Henderson is pleased to see a more comprehensive event to educate the public and feels the effort will be rewarded.
“I am glad that there will be a more robust effort to share information and to network with members of the community about things that not only impact us but will have a long-term effect on later generations,” he said.
Miltenberger also wants the community to be aware of other activities that will be held on or around Earth Day, which will showcase different aspects of the broad-based efforts she feels are necessary to educate people and to protect the planet.
“We want to encourage people to take advantage of all of the other earth related events that are happening this weekend. These include the Siuslaw Cyclists Earth Day ride and activities at Honeyman Park,” she said. “Vision Quest is presenting a series on birds at the library on Saturday morning, a bird watch on Sunday and there is a free screening of the film, ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste’ on Thursday at City Lights Cinemas.”
Miltenberger is also encouraged by the participation of other local groups.
“Businesses and organizations are still joining our cause but these are the ones, so far, who are either participating in a booth or in donating goods and services,” she said, listing Shipping Solutions, the Rhody Express and taxi service, the Florence ORganizes Environmental Team, Florence Master Recyclers, the Siuslaw Chapter of Surfriders, EMAC, Central Coast Bee Keepers Association, Healthcare for All Oregon Florence Chapter, Florence Food Share and Oregon Wild.
Primarily, Miltenberger wants to provide a fun, informative event that will educate, entertain and inspire discussion and, ultimately, action.
“The most important thing the public can do is come, check us out and bring children and grandchildren to participate in our hands on activities,” she said. “Public participation is our big motivation for doing this in upcoming years. People can also bring old cell phones, ink cartridges, and bubble wrap to recycle. Bring a chair if you plan to stay a while and enjoy our large variety of entertainment.”
For more information on Sunday’s Earth Day Festival, call 503-705-0310.