As you enjoy the shore’s natural beauty this weekend, spend some time marking Earth Day in Cape May. America first observed Earth Day on April 22, 1970, as a grassroots movement to increase environmental awareness. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin conceived of it after two major ecological events in 1969 — a Santa Barbara oil spill — and the Cuyahoga River becoming so polluted, it burned. An estimated 20 million people responded in their communities and, in the 42 years since, the movement has spread all over the world.
Victorians had their version of an environmental movement over 100 years before. In 1858, Londoners faced the “Great Stink,” as high spring temperatures and lingering drought combined to exacerbate the odors emanating from the Thames. New indoor plumbing pipes brought untreated sewage from nearly three million Londoners into the tidal river, joining the waste of slaughterhouses, tanneries, and other businesses. The Thames did not carry the waste out to sea as engineers had hoped, and it accumulated on the mudflats. The stench became unbearable, calling attention to pollution in the Thames, the source of the city’s drinking water. Over the course of 50 years, the river went from “clear stream to foul sewer,” according to a 1958 editorial in the Illustrated London Times. For decades, Londoners calling for intervention had been thwarted by corruption and bureaucracy, but after one stinky summer, Parliament was motivated to act.
Modern environmentalists can mark Earth Day in Cape May in a number of ways. At the Cape May County Park and Zoo, “Set the Scene… Go Green,” on Saturday, April 21, with a fun run and 5k, an environmental magic show and Earth Day fair featuring live music and an interactive drum circle. The Nature Center of Cape May will host an Earth Day and Marine Debris cleanup on Saturday, April 21 from 9am-noon at 1600 Delaware Avenue. Help to clean the beach and spruce up the gardens while learning about wildlife. Bring your own tools, and call ahead if you have a large group. The cleanup is free, and refreshments are provided. Or, spend the day learning about the creatures who demonstrate why the earth is worth saving. A lecture on “Milkweed for Monarchs” is scheduled from 10:30-noon, or catch “Hummingbirds 101” from 1-3pm. Call 609-898-8848 for more information.
Finish the day by toasting Mother Earth with some local wine or beer.