About 2,000 visitors concerned about the future of the planet converged upon Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero on Saturday to participate in the 8th annual Earth Day festival.
Co-sponsored by The Sierra Club Calusa Group and the Happehatchee Center — an Indian word meaning “Happy River” — the day’s events included live music, a raffle, art displays, plenty of food, kayak rides, a drum circle, meditation sessions, activities for the kids and much more.
Kicking off the festivities at 9:45 a.m. sharp, Sierra Club volunteer Jacqline Crow regaled the crowd with a mythical Incan story about an ill-fated “rainbird” before launching into a series of hypothetical questions.
“We need to stop and think if we need a new car every year,” she said. “Do we really need a new car every year? Do we really need a bigger house? Do we really need more shopping centers? Ladies, do you really need another pair of shoes? We all have to look at our lives and decide if we want to save this good land the Creator has given us.”
Crow’s fellow Sierra Club volunteer, Gari Lewis, served as master of ceremonies on Saturday. Lewis said individual spirituality makes little difference when it comes to protecting the planet.
“This is our eighth year, and we have all the booths and educational presentations about protecting the planet,” Lewis said from behind the pair of dark sunglasses she was wearing against the bright sunlight overhead. “It’s about all of us celebrating this great world, Earth, that we all live on. No matter what your spirituality is, we’re all on the same path. We all breathe the same air and share an interconnectedness.”
Sierra Club president Ellen Peterson echoed those sentiments.
“Today gives all of the environmental groups and people who work with the environment enough information so that they can actually do something,” she said. “A lot of times we think we love the environment, but we don’t know what to do about. This gives us something to do.”
Manning the booth representing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, environmental-policy specialist Steven Brown said education is key.
“An event like today’s raises awareness of how we can change our lives to benefit the planet rather than being a drain on it,” Brown said. “It’s an opportunity to make the community aware of the activities out there, and it’s also an opportunity for us to celebrate the Earth’s birthday together.”
A few booths down, Gene Csonka and his wife, Tina, said they, too, were concerned about the planet’s future.
“Basically, it’s about letting people know what they can do to protect the wildlife and birds and the habitat they live in,” said Gene Csonka, who serves as chairman of Audubon of Southwest Florida’s education committee. “People need to realize that the wildlife habitat is being destroyed more and more every day.”
Tina Csonka said Southwest Florida’s unique environment might be a mystery to many newly arrived residents.
“We’re here so that people new to the area can become more aware of what they’re seeing every day,” she said. “The wildlife, the plants, the birds … a lot of it is so much different than where they’re originally from. We all need to think globally and act locally. We can’t save the whole world, but we can certainly do something about the area we live in, and awareness is the key.”
Audubon festival chairman Conny Spurfield agreed.
“It’s about getting out and meeting people and giving them a little kick to think about the environment,” the Germany native said. “People like us are here with information about the local habitats, and we can affect a change, slowly but surely. It’s like planting a seed — it takes a little bit of time to grow.”
For her part, Heidi Stacy of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Environmental Association said environmental change starts with one’s self.
“Today is a good way to raise community awareness so that people can become more aware and more involved to fix the problems,” said Stacy, a 24-year-old junior majoring in, appropriately enough, environmental studies.
For more information on The Sierra Club Calusa Group, call (239) 992-5455 or visit www.florida.sierraclub.org/calusa. For more information on the Happehatchee Center, call (239) 206-4393 or visit www.happehatcheecenter.org. For more information on Koreshan State Historic Site, call (239) 992-0311 or visit www.floridastateparks.org/koreshan.