Global day of recognition has roots in Wisconsin
At this time of year—April 22, to be exact—people from all over the world unite in recognition of Earth Day, an annual celebration that honors the achievements of the environmental conservation movement and raises awareness of the need to protect the Earth’s natural resources. While there may be differing opinions on the most effective and practical ways to meet that need, Earth Day brings people of all different persuasions together on common ground—the very ground (and water, and air, and everything else Mother Earth provides) we all share.
Wisconsinites can be extra proud of this global movement as its seeds were planted by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, a conservationist and two-term governor of the Dairy State who came to be known as the father of Earth Day.
In 1969, Nelson was a junior U.S. senator who, inspired by the student anti-war movement, announced the idea for a “teach-in” on college campuses to raise the public’s consciousness about air and water pollution. He teamed with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey from California to co-chair the effort, and they recruited a young activist named Denis Hayes to organize the campus teach-ins, strategically choosing a day between Spring Break and final exams—April 22—for maximum student participation.
Recognizing that this effort had appeal beyond college campuses, the founders changed the name of the event to Earth Day and encouraged activities and demonstrations across the country. Earth Day quickly caught on with a number of different groups that had been working independently to bring attention to various environmental concerns, uniting them in their shared common values.
That first Earth Day celebration in 1970, launched with bipartisan support, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other environmental and conservation laws. The movement continued to grow, becoming global in 1990 and prompting President Bill Clinton to award Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his role as Earth Day founder.
Perhaps one of the most enduring appeals of Earth Day is that despite its worldwide presence and larger legislative goals, the spirit of the day can be captured in small actions taken right at home, whether it’s picking up roadside trash, bringing reusable grocery bags to the store, or walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible.
A great way to honor Earth Day—not just on April 22 but all year long—is to visit state parks and nature reserves that are managed to protect natural habitat and ecological conditions and features. Here are a couple of nature reserves located within electric cooperative service territory that host special Earth Day activities that are open to the public.
Beaver Creek Reserve
Bordered by the Eau Claire River and two trout streams, Beaver Creek Reserve (BCR) is located in Fall Creek, on Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s lines. It encompasses more than 400 acres of diverse habitat including upland woods, river-bottom forests, wetlands, and savannah areas.
BCR has multiple facilities where visitors can learn about the nature that’s protected here, including nine miles of hiking trails, a Discovery Room filled with hands-on exhibits, a Butterfly House where summer visitors can see some of Wisconsin’s native butterflies up close, and an observatory where members of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society host public viewing on clear Saturday evenings once a month.
In addition, BCR offers a full schedule of camps, programs, and other special seasonal activities, including its annual Earth Day observance. This year, the reserve is expanding its Earth Day format in an effort to maximize community impact. Special programs and activities will be held throughout April as part of BCR’s new Earth Day Every Day campaign, sponsored by local businesses and organizations, including Eau Claire Energy Cooperative.
Special programs will cover topics such as sustainable living practices including composting, recycling, and homesteading; learning to identify and stop the spread of invasive plant and animal species; preparing a pollinator-friendly garden; and foraging for wild edible plants. Other Earth Day Every Day activities include a spring GPS hike through the reserve, a Bird School where beginning birders can learn to identify birds by sights and songs, and a “natural” paint class for kids, using naturally pigmented colors.
On Earth Day itself, BCR is hosting an Earth Day Walk. On this self-guided hike through the reserve, participants will learn about pollinators and native plants and make a sustainable seed starting kit of native plant seeds to take home.
At the end of each Earth Day event, prizes will be raffled off. Registration is required for Every Day Earth Day activities; some programs have a modest fee. Learn more by visiting beavercreekreserve.org or calling 715-877-2212. Beaver Creek Reserve is located at S1 County Road K, Fall Creek, WI 54742.
Clear Lake Museum pays tribute to native son Gaylord Nelson
The northwest Wisconsin Village of Clear Lake has everything its name implies: crystal-clear bodies of water, thickly wooded parks, endless varieties of wild flora and fauna. Given the bountiful natural resources that characterize this rural community, it seems only natural that one of its native residents would grow up to become a renowned conservationist and the founder of Earth Day.
Former U.S. Senator and two-term Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson grew up in Clear Lake, and the community preserves and celebrates this special heritage with pride. Among the village’s most popular attractions is the Clear Lake Area Historical Museum, which is largely dedicated to Nelson. Exhibits are filled with memorabilia from Nelson’s early years in Clear Lake through his rise to political prominence.
Not surprisingly, Earth Day has special meaning in this community. School children actively engage in Earth Day activities, and public celebrations have often included exhibits and events held at the community center, which is the former high school that Nelson once attended. This year, Clear Lake’s Earth Day celebration is a combination community/school event, focused on service projects that students will engage in throughout the community.
Among those projects will be helping to revamp the exhibits at the Clear Lake Area Historical Museum. Plans call for the newly retooled museum to be officially unveiled at the community’s Heritage Days celebration, held annually the last weekend in June (this year June 22–25). Hours of operation for the summer are pending; check the Clear Lake Historical Museum on Facebook for times.
The museum is located at 540 5th St., Clear Lake, WI 54005. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/clearlakemuseum or call 715-263-3050.
Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Located in the state’s Driftless Area, on Vernon Electric Cooperative’s lines, is the Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR). This 8,600-acre stretch of land is located near La Farge alongside Wildcat Mountain State Park, with the Kickapoo River winding through. The stunning topography here is defined by the hills, valleys, and rocky cliffs that are characteristic of the region’s unglaciated area. There are also thick hardwood tree stands, wetlands, and open areas that were once agricultural fields.
Outdoor recreation opportunities are abundant at KVR, with 55 trail segments accommodating a wide range of activities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, and snowshoeing. Special events and educational workshops are held throughout the year at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center, with its newly redesigned Discover Center filled with hands-on displays and exhibits.
Among those special events is the annual Earth Day Celebration, which in the past has featured a day of volunteer roadside cleanup. Roadside cleanup is still a big part of KVR’s 2023 Earth Day program, but this year’s celebration has been expanded to include a weeklong stewardship event focusing on removing garlic mustard—an invasive species—from the landscape.
The event will kick off on April 14—the Saturday prior to Earth Day—with roadside cleanup and a Driftless Dialogue program about tracking invasive species in Vernon County. Guests will learn about the threat garlic mustard poses to the native ecosystem and how to identify this invasive plant before taking to the grounds to remove it.
Volunteers remove mustard garlic from the landscape at Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Photos courtesy of Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Participants may proceed either individually or in teams to help with garlic mustard gathering throughout the week, working at their own pace and on their own schedule. There are mustard garlic locations on KVR property to accommodate all ages and abilities; staff can help direct participants to the appropriate place.
Activities will culminate on Earth Day with a day of celebration at KVR, including a weigh-in to see which volunteer removed the most invasive plants over the prior week. The day will also feature poetry reading by winners of KVR’s children’s Earth Day poetry contest, live music, prizes and awards, and a zero-waste potluck meal.
To learn more, visit kickapoovalley.wi.gov, email Kickapoo.firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 608-625-2960. Kickapoo Valley Reserve is located at S3661 State Highway 131, La Farge, WI 54639.—Mary Erickson (Source: earthday.org)