Taking Action Today for a Greener Tomorrow
Apr 01, 2017 01:10AM
by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
In the wake of its 1970 inception, Earth Day has since become a global movement, spanning more than 190 countries and observed each year on April 22. Designed to encourage both awareness and partnership in ecological conservation efforts, this annual occurrence unites citizens from all corners of our planet who are enthusiastic about social consciousness and environmental reform. Their dedication has allowed this event to increase its traction and bandwidth for almost five decades, and here on the Suncoast, that momentum continues to surge as well.
About to enter its twenty-eighth year, the Sarasota Earth Day Festival, which takes place inside Oscar Scherer State Park, is committed to protecting the natural resources, landscapes, inhabitants and biodiversity within our slice of Florida paradise. The event’s focus is to educate, empower and mobilize the community toward reducing their carbon footprints and adopting more sustainable, “greener” lifestyle norms.
“It’s important for us to recognize and participate in Earth Day initiatives because we just have one planet to call home,” enumerates Lee Hibbeler, the Park Service Specialist responsible for organizing this time-honored tradition. “Oscar Scherer State Park makes an effort to bring together businesses, non-profits and other community members who make eco-conscious strides toward a brighter future.
“By celebrating with food, music, activities and each other, we can highlight the exciting opportunities to move forward together in preserving this home we share and the life it supports. We can also inform those who might not understand the significance of environmental practices like solar energy, prescribed fire and native versus invasive plant species––all during an enjoyable afternoon in the spring Florida sun! This is our longest-running event here in the park, and we’re consistently offering modifications or improvements to make our visitors’ experience that much better. We seek to attract new green businesses and extend invitations to those in the community who haven’t joined us before.”
In keeping with that reputation for excellence, this year’s festivities will range from outdoor recreation to family-oriented entertainment to wellness demonstrations and more. Hibbeler expounds, “We’ve assembled a number of activities, exhibits and vendors––each with a different earth-themed emphasis. We feature sustainable businesses like Mirasol FAFCO Solar and Crystal Clean Green Cleaning, in addition to other environmentally beneficial entities like the Florida Forest Service, Peace Corps Volunteers of the Gulf Coast, Sarasota County Mosquito Management and University of Florida Institute for Food & Agricultural Services.
“We’re also shining the spotlight on vendors with a passion for caring about plants, animals and fellow humans such as Florida Native Plant Society, Mote Marine’s Mobile Exhibit, Serenoa Chapter, OneBlood Donation Bus and Center for Great Apes. Not to mention, the park itself will host a number of additional offerings such as children’s games, a puppet show, and coloring or photography contests––the latter of which includes prizes and online voting options.
“We also encourage our guests to join in a group project to restore habitats around the lake or create an accessible trail to the park entrance, so those visiting on-foot are no longer required to hike down the main drive. New this year, we are also debuting an Earth Day ‘BioBlitz,” during which guests can learn to identify plants, mammals, birds or insects, then explore the park while surveying and cataloguing the various species nestled here.
“Finally, on-site demonstrations––like kayaking, paddle boarding and acupuncture––will be showcased, and we’re also excited to welcome musicians Dwight Sullivan, Steve Arvey, Patti Highland and Patchouli. Then, to round-out the afternoon, we’ll join together circling Lake Osprey at 12:15 p.m., for ‘Hands Around the Lake’ which symbolizes how everyone can make a difference when unified in a common cause.”
Earth Day is just one event on the calendar, but it’s expanded into a platform to champion the message of environmental protection year-round, and Oscar Scherer State Park can attest to the continual progress being made toward this objective. “I think we’re all becoming more eco-conscious,” Hibbeler notes. “There are recycled bags for sale at the grocery store, increasing trends in reusable water containers, solar panels on houses and energy-efficient vehicles.
“Here inside the park, we can also gauge the eco-conscious behaviors of the general public based on their inquiries. The main question we’re asked is ‘Where can I see a Florida Scrub Jay?’ This communicates just how much the community is interested in wildlife––particularly this endangered species. Given the restoration efforts here, people might not always understand our reasons for altering a habitat to make it healthier, but their questions are indicative of how much they care about the plants and animals, demonstrating the large number of enlightened visitors who come through our gates.”
Nevertheless, curbing our hazardous impact on these natural biospheres and ecosystems is an ongoing process without an end-date. Hibbeler concludes, “While strides have been made to enhance sustainability efforts, we’re still spreading the word about more efforts needed. For example, we promote the worldwide ‘Billion Acts of Green’ initiative which educates people on the types of energy resources they consume, packaging materials they utilize and other strategies to help the environment. The entire theme of our Earth Day Festival is getting the word out, so let’s advocate together for this planet––one green foot forward at a time!”
The twenty-eighth annual Earth Day Festival takes place on April 22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oscar Scherer State Park is located at 1843 S Tamiami Trail, Osprey. For more information, call 941-483-5957 or visit FloridaStateParks.org.
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com features practical tips for embracing an active, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.