Willimantic revives Earth Day celebration

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Apr. 23, 2013
Windham Middle School student Keneishaliz jumps to high-five Oswaldo Tirano from Grasshopper Arts, who was walking on stilts through the Earth Day Open Air Fair at QVCC on April 22. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Windham Middle School student Keneishaliz jumps to high-five Oswaldo Tirano from Grasshopper Arts, who was walking on stilts through the Earth Day Open Air Fair at QVCC on April 22. Photos by Melanie Savage.

It has been many years since Willimantic held an Earth Day celebration. “I used to do it years ago with Jean de Smet,” said Bev York, a local historian and educator. “It’s more important now than ever,” she said. So York contacted Katie Gregory, assistant director of admissions at Quinebaug Valley Community College to get things moving for this year.

“We got really good support,” said Gregory, as the cordoned-off street alongside QVCC began to fill with presenters and visitors on the morning of April 22. “We’re trying to grow this, we hope to make it a new tradition,” said Gregory. “This was really a community-driven event.”

“The first Earth Day in 1970 led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts,” reads a blurb from the QVCC website. “Forty-three years later the fight for a clean environment continues in a climate of increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more apparent every day. Earth Day provides the opportunity for citizens to channel their energy and enthusiasm into building a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come.”

The Farmer’s Cow, one of the presenters, provided samples of locally-made products. Solarize Mansfield-Windham shared a booth with the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Energy Challenge. “This is helping people to make that choice to make their homes more energy efficient,” said Kate Donnelly from Neighbor-to-Neighbor.

Donnelly pointed out that the deadline for oil energy audits is June. “So it’s a good idea to sign up now,” she said. Ninety-nine dollars pays for an audit, as well as other perks such as compact fluorescent bulbs, caulking and weather-stripping. But, as Donnelly pointed out, lower-income residents can qualify for a free audit, including free insulation. See http://ctenergychallenge.com for more information. For more information about Solarize Mansfield-Windham, go to solarizect.com.

Pam Wright, the Willimantic Wildlife Habitat Community team leader and a UConn master gardener, provided a wealth of information about creating environmentally friendly outdoor spaces. Willimantic became just the second town in the state to achieve certification as a wildlife habitat under the National Wildlife Federation. Nationwide, there are currently 65 communities that have been certified. “A Community Wildlife Habitat is a community that provides habitat for wildlife throughout the community - in individual backyards, on school grounds and in public areas such as parks, community gardens, places of worship and businesses,” according to the NWF website.

With so much of the planet inhabited by humans, “If individuals don’t take the initiative to make the land habitable for other species, we’re not going to have a fertile planet,” said Wright. “Individuals may think that they cannot do much, but anything we do will help."

Easy things that the individual homeowner can do include reducing lawn size and planting native plants. Native species have evolved to thrive in the local environment and live in harmony with insects, birds, animals and other plants, said Wright. Non-natives such as the burning bush, the barberry and the oriental bittersweet are currently wreaking havoc within the local ecosystem, said Wright, offering up a specific example. The barberry offers the ideal habitat for the deer tick, she said, and can significantly increase the deer tick population. It also leafs out earlier than native trees, competing with native flowers such as the lady’s slipper for sunlight. “Native trees wouldn’t be leafing out until after the flowers are done blooming,” said Wright.

A major goal of the Earth Day fair was to educate local students. A large contingent of students from both Windham STEM and Windham Middle School participated in a scavenger hunt designed to facilitate conversations with presenters. "We really wanted to make something that was educational," said Gregory.


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