Fifty Years of Earth Day

Events planned for the first Earth Day were outlined in the April 10, 1970 issue of the campus newspaper.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, first celebrated on April 22, 1970. On that first Earth Day, Harpur College’s Save Our World committee organized a teach-in at local public schools and hosted a lecture by the Broome County Health Engineer on population and the environment. The committee also requested a one-day ban of cars on campus, to highlight the air pollution caused by exhaust fumes.

Additional Earth Day events were held over the next several days: these included a plant-in around what is now the Nature Preserve; a series of films, displays, and lectures; a march to the Susquehanna River; and a sleep-out. A march to the university’s heating plant to urge stronger environmental controls was held April 29, according to the recap of Earth Day events in the April 28, 1970 issue of the Colonial News.

Earth Day was first observed during a period of heightened environmental awareness at the University: protests were launched in the summer of 1968 over a proposal to remove an area of hardwood forest to make room for dormitories and parking lots. After these concerns were raised and a hike-in was held, a revised plan resulted in the preservation of a large portion of the hardwood forest and the construction of the physically compact College-in-the-Woods residential unit. In December 1969, following additional protests against the construction of athletic fields behind Hinman College, University President Bruce Dearing halted the construction project, proposed the creation of a nature preserve in the area, and urged the establishment of a Committee on the University Environment.

The lead story in the issue of the Colonial News for April 24, 1970 (above) concerned the release of tentative boundaries for the proposed nature preserve by the University Committee on the Environment. President Dearing told the paper that he “felt that the natural area proposed for a preserve would be of benefit to the entire local and academic community not only in an aesthetic sense but as a necessary component of basic human ecological needs.”

By Earth Day 1971, a series of trails had been proposed for the nascent nature preserve, and among the Earth Day events that year were a series of hikes, intended to introduce students to the seldom-visited area of campus and to “direct attention to the preserve plan.”

The following year’s Earth Week events included a large-scale reforestation project on campus, as students planted more than 1,500 trees and shrubs in the Nature Preserve on Friday, April 21, 1972.

While this year’s Earth Day celebrations will of necessity be held virtually, we look forward to marking Earth Day 2021 on campus next April!

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