The Seeds of Change 25 years ago, America discovered its green side

April 15, 1995|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Staff Writer

They brightened roadsides. They badgered polluters. They buried automobiles. And they built forests. In one day, no less.

It was 1970. Americans were full of spunk, and the country was full of junk. Earth Day used one to begin to fix the other.

On April 22, millions of Americans, many of them students, took to the streets -- and streams -- to pick up debris and decry the state of the environment.

In some communities, their legacy still stands.

A modest erosion-control effort by college students on the first Earth Day 25 years ago has yielded a sumptuous, wildlife-rich woods near Manchester, in Carroll County.

And, like the forest, Earth Day has evolved considerably since its beginning as a massive, slightly nutty national rally.

On the first Earth Day, protests produced more headlines than plantings. Participants piled trash around politicians' doors, splashed oil outside industrialists' offices and even painted Old Glory green, to decry the planet's ills.

But demonstrations tapered off as the environmental movement seeped into America's psyche. Earth Day began as a free-spirited activity, but metamorphosed into a national mind-set, say those who were there at the start.

"What we did that day was make people more aware of the problems," says Linton Warneke Beaven who, as a Western Maryland College student, took part in the inaugural Earth Day. "I don't think there's as much trash thrown on the road as there used to be. And most people aren't going to dump raw sewage into Chesapeake Bay today."

It wasn't all confrontation in 1970. With no fanfare, Earth Day took root in places like the Robert Hunter farm where Western Maryland College students swarmed over a barren hillside to plant 20,000 pine seedlings.

Today, those evergreens provide dense sanctuary for deer and small game, including foxes, pheasants and wild turkeys. Nearly 40 feet tall, the woods linger for one-fourth of a mile, providing a lush backdrop visible to motorists on busy Route 30.

That news surprises Ms. Beaven, one of more than 300 young men and women who took part in the Plant-In.

"Forty feet? You're kidding!" she says. "You mean we did something of lasting importance?"

Troops toiled in tandem, she recalled, digging holes and positioning trees. The Plant-In paired hippies and crew-cuts. On Earth Day, sandals worked alongside sneakers.

"That was our little part for the planet," says Ms. Beaven, now a marine biologist in Solomons, Calvert County. "Earth Day was a neat thing (in 1970); it went with the music, the clothes, being irreverent, the whole deal."

A part for all

University of Baltimore students buried a car engine to protest pollution from automobiles. In Catonsville, teen-agers paraded through town wearing white surgical masks. And a group from Patterson High picketed a burning dump in East Baltimore.

No one was too young to demonstrate. Students from Belvedere Elementary, in Arnold, marched onto the campus of nearby Anne Arundel Community College to show their concern for the Earth. Peter Lamb held a placard that read, "Stop the world, I want to get off. All I do is cough, cough, cough." Three-year-old Maureen Pope fumbled with a sign that asked, "I pick up my toys. Do you?"

Many schools did the unusual for Earth Day. Boycotting buses and cars, students at Archbishop Keough High School used bikes and roller skates to get there. Goucher College held a "Trash Bash," with dormitories competing to pick up the most garbage on campus.

At Hawthorne Elementary, in Middle River, beaming students christened a nature trail that had taken them months to carve from a junk-riddled swamp behind the school. In place of old tires and trash were more than 200 shrubs and trees.

In College Park, some 600 students at the University of Maryland celebrated with a "Tent-Out" and a "Lie-In." They slept overnight on the campus mall, in "a communion with lawn-mown nature," and remained there on Earth Day, clanging cow bells to protest highway expansion.

An editorial in the Diamondback, the campus newspaper, urged students to (a) car pool and (b) refrain from buying "frivolous" electronic equipment.

Civic groups also embraced Earth Day. The Lutherville Garden Club staged its own "Litter Walk." Members of the Dulaney Valley Women's Club gathered trash along Pot Spring Road.

Even Fort McHenry got into the act: At the visitor's center, the hourly historical film was preceded by a five-minute environmental short.

Anti-pollution speeches and demonstrations swept the country. Most were peaceful, though 13 people were arrested at the Boston airport during a mock funeral protesting the advent of the supersonic transport plane. At a rally in Portland, Maine, authorities confiscated an American flag with green stripes instead of red.

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