Parks and Recreation Celebrates Earth Day 2024

March 28, 2024, Department, by NRPA

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For more than 50 years, Earth Day has signified a time for people to come together to invest in the health of the environment both locally and globally. As one of the largest groups of land managers and community service providers, park and recreation professionals and their agencies are essential to these environmental efforts. Here are some ways that park and recreation agencies across the country are engaging their communities in Earth Day and Earth Month activities:

BreeAnna Fletcher, program supervisor, Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Parks and Recreation

“Promoting nature and agriculture is actually one of our main missions year-round here at Northern Regional Recreation Center in Mecklenburg County! The entire building was designed with wood paneling, a barn silo for our water slide, and a large vegetable garden area with approximately 30 containers or raised beds to go along with our goals to educate our community about how to grow their own food and teach the community about the benefits of connecting with nature. Our nature center educators will be presenting a special Garden Earth Day Celebration in partnership with Clark’s Creek Community Garden, which will include garden tours, nature activities, snacks and a butterfly garden. In addition, all month long we will be celebrating the spring and nature with programs, such as a field trip to the botanical gardens, a night hike with s’mores and take-home glowing paper mushrooms, homeschool naturalist programs, nature art, tea garden education and our new beginning birding programs. Nature and agriculture programming is a wonderful opportunity [for people] to learn amazing facts about the world around us, such as where their food comes from … or how we can make a positive impact on our environment with small choices, such as recycling. As our nature center educator Patricia Tierney says, ‘Every day is Earth Day!’”

Troy Houtman, CPRE, director of park and recreation, City of Wichita (Kansas)

“Earth Day should be every day! However, a special day to honor the Earth is essential to remind folks how important it is to take care of our environment. Earth Day is also vital in sparking a passion and providing educational opportunities to learn how to protect the environment and become more sustainable in our everyday lives and work activities. Small efforts can make a difference, such as planting a few extra trees or learning more about carbon sequestration. As park and recreation professionals, it is imperative that we take the lead in these efforts to include making Earth Day an important day for our future.”

Rebecca Swift, natural resources coordinator, City of Bloomington (Indiana) Parks and Recreation

“The [2024 Annual Bike to Earth Day] event is free and open to the public, and will feature live music, food and drinks, local vendors, raffles, tree giveaways, volunteer recognition, and more. Local vendors will represent sustainability initiatives, environmental groups [and] the clean energy/transportation sector. I am most excited about the volunteer recognition opportunity to acknowledge the contributions and celebrate the positive impact our volunteer network has had on environmental conservation in our community.

“The Earth Day Planning Committee has worked on identifying specific demographics or groups within the community that have been less engaged in the past. We’ve tailored outreach efforts to address various interests, concerns and communication preferences to extend our reach. This has involved using different communication channels, such as social media, local newspapers, seasonal program guides and building community partnerships. We’ve partnered with local community groups, schools, businesses and nonprofit organizations to help promote the event and establish connections with a larger audience. We’ve also developed Earth Day activities that cater to a diverse range of ages, demographics and abilities. Additionally, we ensure that our Earth Day event is easily accessible by choosing a central location along a multiuse trail with public transportation options nearby. Lastly, we incorporated a Volunteer Recognition and EcoHeroes Award Ceremony in the event schedule to incentivize attendance and encourage community involvement.”

Jamiah Flagg, recreation program coordinator, Douglasville (Georgia) Parks and Recreation

“For Earth Day this year, our focus is on replenishing the tree canopy in a recently renovated park, which suffered a loss of trees during construction. This project is particularly exciting as it mirrors the goals outlined in our Environmental Sustainability Strategy. We have made a commitment to be laser-focused on the quality and integrity of our trees and gardens throughout the city. Through tree planting and restoring the butterfly garden, we aim to enhance biodiversity in our community.”

Jacqui Ulrich, director, Conservation and Experiential Programming Department, Forest Preserves of Cook County (Illinois)

“To reach more people, the Forest Preserves of Cook County has spread its Earth Day celebration over the last several years to more and new sites, covering the days before and after the day itself. The programs are a mix of fun events and volunteer efforts that allow people to give back to the natural world. We’ve prioritized connecting to people out who haven’t typically been visitors to the Forest Preserves, including ads this year in local papers and digital media that serve communities of color. We like to say that every day is Earth Day in the Forest Preserves.”

Sarah Justice, environmental outreach program coordinator, Cary (North Carolina) Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department

“Cary’s commitment to protecting and preserving the environment is celebrated with our March Into Earth Day campaign! Through this multi-month campaign, our community members are invited to join us in climate actions and stewardship strategies through dozens of programs, events and celebrations. Opportunities such as stream cleanups, compost classes, garden workshops, birding walks and solar info sessions will include tools and tips for participants to help Cary make an impact in water quality, waste diversion, local food, renewable energy and more….

“Almost all of our March Into Earth Day opportunities are free and take place at a wide variety of locations in our community, including online lunch-and-learns, making them accessible to people with financial limitations. We also utilize youth volunteers to assist with most of our events, bringing their perspective to this important topic.”