On Saturday, April 21, Earth Day came a day early to the grounds of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, and it seemed like the community didn’t want to wait one day more to celebrate the return of spring’s greenery and warmth after a lingering winter. With bright blue skies, temperatures in the low 60s and plenty to do and to learn, both the weather and the venue couldn’t have been more welcoming for a big turnout.
Sponsored by the Interfaith Earth Action, the church’s Caring for Creation Committee and the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition, New Paltz Earth Day combines the family-friendly fun of an old-fashioned church picnic with dynamic activism on behalf of our beleaguered natural environment. Each new arrival was greeted by colorful flags of all nations flapping in the light spring breeze and the festive sounds of a large group of musicians combining members of the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Tin Horn Uprising, playing old gospel tunes with contemporary lyrics like “We’re gonna stand for Mother Earth / Down by the riverside…”
A stretch of Huguenot Street was closed off to auto traffic for the occasion, but a couple of electric cars were parked at curbside in front of the church, with New Paltz Climate Action Coalition members standing by to answer questions about the vehicles. “Most people do not know much about electric cars. There’s also a lot of misinformation out there,” said Samrat Pathania, who drives a 2011 Chevy Volt. “For example, people think the batteries cannot be recycled, which is not true.” The misconception probably derives from the typical 100,000-mile warranty on the batteries, he said, noting that their actual lifespan is more like 500,000 miles. Another popular misconception, according to Pathania, is that an electric vehicle can only be recharged at an official EV charging station. “Wherever you can plug in your phone, you can plug in your car,” he said; a normal electrical outlet will just take longer.
On the church’s front lawn, picnic benches were arrayed for those partaking of the edibles available to purchase. But this was no conventional church supper: Though prepared in the Reformed Church’s basement kitchen by volunteers from the congregation, everything on offer was vegetarian. There were veggie lasagna, three-bean chili, butternut squash chowder, cornbread, red beans and rice and a wide variety of desserts.
The main action was happening in the parking lot and side yard, however. It seemed like every eco-friendly business and organization in the New Paltz vicinity had set up a vendor tent or an information table, many of them offering hands-on educational activities. Attendees could play Climate Change Jeopardy; learn about beekeeping or home solar collectors; sign up for vegetable shares from CSAs or for meat- and egg-share programs. Recycling and repurposing were common themes: Visitors could add plastic bags to an ever-growing “Bag Boy” sculpture, purchase reusable diapers and diaper-wraps, or even washable and reusable menstrual pads — some adorned with sharks or Storm Troopers, in addition to the expected floral motifs.
Seedlings for spring planting were much in evidence, and little kids could get in on the action by planting seeds of peas, beans, corn, marigolds and zinnias in egg cartons to take home at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners’ table. “The corn went fast,” noted volunteer Carol Brown. At the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance booth, environmental educator Martha Cheo guided youngsters in identifying invertebrates in a water sample collected from the Plattekill Brook, noting that the presence of caddisflies showed that it was one of the Wallkill’s cleaner tributaries. Nearby were giant inflatable Earth Balls ready to toss around in cooperative games.
Possibly the biggest hit with the younger set this year was the display set up by Erik Callender, curator of the roving “Erik’s Reptile History Museum.” Four-year-old Sophia O’Connor, a preschooler at Montessori of New Paltz, posed for photos perched atop a replica of a Galapagos tortoise while a friend sat on a sea turtle model. “All the animals are big and small,” Sophia observed. Life-sized models of alligators and crocodiles, pythons and cobras and cane toads were arrayed all around the Reptile Guy’s van. It was the first visit to New Paltz Earth Day for Callender, who recently moved to the area — and also recently swapped a long career of doing live wildlife presentations for using plastic replicas, out of concern for the animals. “We had a blast,” he said of the event. So, judging by the smiles all around, did the whole crowd.