Wait, am I a conservationist?
In January I became Triangle Community Foundation’s newest Program Officer. One of my main responsibilities is to manage our Environmental Conservation Program. Over these last few months, a question has kept bubbling up: Am I a “conservationist”?
I think so. I grew up playing in the woods behind my house with my brothers and the neighborhood kids. As a family, we took walks along the trails in local and state parks and went on long bike rides. I’ve even spent vacations at national parks. And I’d prefer to commute to work by bus, train, or bike than drive alone in my car.
I don’t have an environmental degree (I’m a social worker by training) and I don’t own large swaths of land that could be “conserved.” But I’ve spent most of my professional life figuring out how to ensure that communities are using their finite land and natural resources to support the needs of their people in a sustainable way.
So, I am a conservationist, right? Yeah, I am. Are you?
The “conservationists” behind the inaugural Earth Day
On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million people across the country gathered for the first ever Earth Day because they felt the same way. They were people, mostly young people, a lot of students, who were worried about things like pollution, and humans’ impact on the Earth. They didn’t call themselves conservationists, but they shared a concern that if we didn’t take action, the Earth’s natural resources would be quickly depleted and there would be dire consequences for people all over the globe.
How Triangle Community Foundation celebrated Earth Day this April
On Friday, April 12, my colleagues and I all put on our t-shirts and sneakers and channeled the sentiment of the original Earth Day participants. Thanks to EarthShare North Carolina’s Corporate Earth Day, Triangle Community Foundation staff got to get our hands (and whole bodies in some cases) dirty with staff from Downtown Durham, Inc. (DDI) at Durham Central Park.
With all the rain, flooding has been an issue. Half of our team helped move a significant amount of gravel to keep rain water from flowing into the covered pavilion. That meant lots of raking and clearing tiny pieces of rock from the lawn area to be repurposed as drainage.
The other half of our team dug through the mud to create a trench where water could flow out of the Farmer’s Market area, so that farmers don’t have to worry about being knee-deep in mud and rain to sell their food. Then they built the earth back up to keep their irrigation work in place.
And we learned a bit about the history of Durham Central Park. It used to be part of the tobacco warehouse district where farmers would sell their crops and turn around (literally) and buy new tractors and equipment with their profits. As the tobacco trade quieted, so did the neighborhood. Then, in the 90’s two Durham residents led the charge to create an urban park that could be a place for public art, music, and gathering.
This event was an important opportunity for us to be in nature (yes, urban nature is nature, too!) and in community with one another, doing something to help maintain an important community green space. Plus we won all the awards, so that was a nice bonus.
But considering and protecting the natural resources the Earth provides us humans shouldn’t be limited to one day a year.
We can all promote conservation all year round
I’m so lucky that I get to help the Foundation keep the spirit of Earth Day alive for the other 364 days of the year. In the last five years through our Environmental Conservation Program the Foundation has invested more than $1.1 million into nearly 40 nonprofit organizations promoting conservation in the Triangle. That funding has helped:
· conserve nearly 200 acres of land serving a variety of community and conservation benefits;
· build an appreciation for natural resources through educational experiences for hundreds of kids; and,
· make public land and water accessible for recreation, agriculture, and other sustainable uses.
Earth Day is April 22nd, a Monday this year. Whether you feel comfortable calling yourself a conservationist or not, there are things you can do on Earth Day, and all year long to make sure that our natural resources remain available now and for future generations. Small things like running full loads of laundry or the dishwasher, turning off lights in your home, or carpooling when possible can add up.
Conservation can mean many things to many people. If you don’t see yourself reflected in the conservation organizations or movements around you, check out these “non-traditional” conservationists on Instagram:
What does conservation mean to you? Share your story in the comments below or reach out to me. I’d love to get to know you and how you think Triangle Community Foundation can help protect the Triangle’s natural resources now and into the future.
Contributing writer, Sarah Guidi, is a Program Officer at Triangle Community Foundation.