There was electricity in the air at the 4th annual Earth Day Festival in Heathsville on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Shoppers, runners, sightseers, activists, children and dogs all mingled harmoniously on the brisk but sunny morning. Hosted by NAPS (Northumberland Assn. for Progressive Stewardship), and in conjunction with the first Farmer’s Market of the season, the eco-friendly event brought everyone together for a common mission – to celebrate the natural beauty of the Northern Neck and share ideas for preserving and protecting it. More than a dozen environmental organizations lined up along the sides of the grassy lawn with their hands-on activities and exhibits.
Parked at the end was Northumberland Public Library’s TechMobile, first introduced to locals about six months ago. A state-of-the-art computer lab on wheels, “Big Blue” travels around the county to provide patrons with internet connection, a copy and fax machine, as well as books and movies. At the center of it the festival was arguably the most popular attraction: Two fully-electric Tesla cars on display, with the owners on hand to answer questions (read separate article: 'It’s Electric' – Earth Day EV Exhibit Draws a Crowd).
The Earth Day Festival kicked off with a 5K run to benefit area schools. Organizers were extremely pleased with the turnout, counting approximately 100 participants – an increase over last year. A “Tot Trot” for kids aged five and under proved to be popular with families.
The NAPS Earth Day Pledge Tree greeted attendees at the entrance to the festival, where young and old alike added paper leaves to the tree with their individual pledges to help the environment. Each person who made a pledge received a complimentary NAPS reusable grocery bag.
Those who joined NAPS were given an LED light bulb and pointed to the next booth down – The Northern Neck Electric Cooperative. A newcomer to the festival, the Co-op showcased a visually stunning display of lightbulbs hooked up to a meter, demonstrating the meager amount of electricity LED bulbs use as compared to the traditional incandescent bulbs. “Think of it as sipping electricity versus drinking it,” said NNEC Public Relations Manager, Jay Garner. “Something as simple as changing a lightbulb can make such a big difference,” Garner added.
Another way to save money while protecting the environment is to install solar panels. NAPS member Lee Allain was on hand with a solar array demonstration. Allain answered questions about the benefits of solar energy and explained to interested environmentalists how they might incorporate the technology into their homes and businesses.
Several members of the Virginia Native Plant Society tended a booth at the festival and their message was a familiar one to Earth Day participants – what’s good for the environment often benefits the homeowner as well. Integrating native plants into your landscape not only protects species native to the Northern Neck, but it will save you time and money, as these plants tend to be hardy and low-maintenance, president Kevin Howe explained. Additionally, since our region’s plants and insects “co-evolved” native plants are crucial to the survival of many beneficial insects.
The kid-friendly display of the Northern Neck Chapter of the National Audubon Society echoed the theme of nature as a unified system. Visitors to their booth leafed through nature books for children and studied a brightly colored poster illustrating birds native to the Northern Neck. “It’s important for children to understand the world around them,” said Porter Washington, Educational Outreach Coordinator for the Chapter. To that end, local Audubon member Kim Schmidt, in conjunction with other groups represented at the Earth Day Festival, has begun organizing an educational presentation for children to emphasize the interconnectedness of the natural world.
The Northumberland Elementary School "Problem Solvers" greeted guests at their display table. They participated in NAPS' Fall Creek Cleanup and a shoreline cleanup at Kohl's Island last year, as well as producing an entertaining skit for the NAPS "Earth Day in February" environmental symposium this year.
Channing Reynolds and Luke Swann showed off their SeaPerch underwater robotic projects, including the newest robot they are taking to the national competition in Massachusetts this year. NAPS has proudly helped sponsor students in the SeaPerch Challenge for several years.
The Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends also had a catchy display promoting their annual “Go Wild” event, coming up on May 20th. The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge through education and support. According to Friends president Ann Graziano, they hoped to have a life-size model of an eagle’s nest for the festival but they were not able to repair the cart to bring it. However, they did have some pelts and several stuffed animals, including an authentic-looking wolf that intrigued children and startled a few visiting dogs.
TOGA (Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association) featured its familiar tank demonstrating how oysters purify the water. Visitors to the exhibit also learned about classes on oyster gardening in Virginia. TOGA currently has 450 active members in the region.
Bill Armstrong and Al Withers of the Northern Neck Land Conservancy, familiar faces at NAPS events, spoke to visitors about the Conservancy’s mission to preserve the rural heritage of the Northern Neck by conserving its land. They have successfully placed over 2000 acres into easements in this area, meaning the land will be protected in perpetuity. “Contrary to what some people believe,” Armstrong explained, “an easement can make your property more valuable.”
First-time exhibitor at the Earth Day Festival, Keep Virginia Beautiful, has partnered with the Virginia Department of Transportation to increase participation in the well-known Adopt-a-Highway program. “VDOT has provided an extensive list of potential contacts for the program,” said Roger Etelman, regional director. An offshoot of Keep America Beautiful, the Virginia branch has announced it is accepting 30 grants to support programs and projects in the Commonwealth to advance environmental objectives.
Another new exhibitor, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is a favorite environmental venue for master naturalists and bird watchers. In addition to its educational mission, the organization has launched an initiative to reduce shoreline erosion using native plants.
One booth over, the Northern Neck Master Gardeners, regular participants in the Earth Day Festival, promoted a similar shoreline project directed by Sue Lindsey.
The Northern Neck Master Naturalists, also a return exhibitor to the festival, described their upcoming Master Naturalist courses. For more information about the courses and other outreach efforts, visit its website.
Visitors to the Earth Day Festival left energized about efforts to protect our pristine environment.