Jerry White remembers looking over the Howard Street bridge in 1970 and watching skeins of algae rippling in the river’s current.
He was in fifth grade and the United States was on the edge of change. Shocked by burning rivers and trash-filled forests, the environmental movement was gaining momentum.
On April 22,1970, the first Earth Day was held.
“The Spokane River was in terrible shape,” White said.
In Spokane, and nationally, that movement was led by young people.
Students Push Earth Week, reads a Spokesman-Review headline from April 20, 1970.
The story reports that 100 students from Continuation High School distributed 10,000 pamphlets. Elsewhere, North Central students rented billboards at the Howard-Maxwell intersection and sponsored a mourn-in at Riverside State Park.
White, who is now the Spokane Riverkeeper, came of age in that brew of youth activism.
Over the years he’s seen Earth Day, and increased environmental awareness, embed itself in the public consciousness.
Strides have been made, but he worries that the energy of that movement has stalled.
“We picked the low-hanging fruit,” White said. “We no longer have toilet paper hanging in the willows down by the Spokane River. It’s great.”
But he worries that because the obvious has been dealt with, the more complicated, harder-to-see issues are being ignored.
“In some ways, people are making assumptions that it’s being taken care of,” he said.
So while Earth Day, and the broader movement that it represents, has had a profound impact on our natural environment, White said the work has to continue.
“I think Earth Day encourages us not only to become a part of a movement to safeguard our natural heritage and our environment, but I also think it really asks us to develop a more profound sense of place,” White said.
Earth Day is on Sunday. There are a slew of events in the Spokane area, either celebrating or directly supporting the environment and conservation.
Below are some ways to help clean up Spokane or financially support organizations dedicated to doing so.
- The Lands Council will plant trees on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. along Deadman Creek in Mead. Participants will plant native species that will improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, cool stream temperatures and strengthen habitat. To sign up landscouncil.org/event/earth-day-tree-planting/.
- The Bower Climbing Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to improving climbing access and safety in the Spokane Area, will host a crag cleanup and after party. Starting at 8 a.m. Sunday, meet at Minnehaha, Cliff Drive, Mirabeau, Dishman or Deep Creek. Bring gloves, work clothes, water and climbing gear if you want to climb after. An after party and fundraiser will start at 5 p.m. at the Washington Cracker Co. Building (304 W. Pacific Ave.) The Marshal McLean band will play and there will be a presentation by BCC president Scott Coldiron on new ice climbing routes in Montana. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $20 at the door. To sign up: bowerclimbingcoalition.com.
- Holly Weiler, the Washington Trails Association’s Eastern Washington coordinator, will lead a trail work crew at Iller Creek from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Although the crew is full, there is a wait list. Visit wta.org/volunteer/schedule/workparty/a2mA0000000Q5IJ.
- Townshend Cellars will donate 10 percent of all sales from its Greenbluff tasting room (8022 E. Greenbluff Rd., Colbert) throughout the weekend to the Spokane Riverkeeper. The winery will also offer discounts on select wines.
- There will be a celebration and Earth Day fair at the Coeur d’Alene Library (702 E. Front Ave.) from noon to 4 p.m. The event is free. For more information: kealliance.org/earth-day-fair/.
In Coeur d’Alene, the annual Tubbs Hill Spring Cleanup is Sunday. The cleanup starts at 9 a.m. and ends at noon. Trash bags and free coffee will be offered at the Third Street entrance. Bring gloves.
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