Sunday, just below the high concrete walls of the Bluestone Dam, a group of southern West Virginians met to celebrate Mother Earth.
Surrounded by warm weather, the bright green buds of springtime and the sounds of youth baseball, the group met at Bellepoint Park not only to celebrate but also to learn.
The Summers County community gathering was joined in spirit by millions around the world celebrating Earth Day, known internationally as International Mother Earth Day.
“We’re all here,” said Hinton resident Harry Peck. “I think we’re all realizing we need to take good care of everything and that we’re all part of this.”
Peck cited the state’s history with railroads, coal mining and chemical industry as reasons that those in the Mountain State should be aware of the environment and added that he thought that the citizens of Hinton are doing a good job of acting toward the environment in a healthy way.
Preparing to open an art gallery, Peck said that taking care of the environment and beautifying the state will do wonders when attracting people to come to the Mountain State.
While environmental concerns may be oftentimes confusing, Peck offered simple advice that anyone can follow.
“Just not litter,” the Hinton resident said.
While not littering will go toward that beautification effort, Peck was also on hand at the celebration to add some more beauty to the world through art.
Peck supervised children in attendance as they painted a bee box belonging to the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.
Terri Giles with Appalachian Headwaters, the nonprofit that runs the collective, said that Summers County has been more than receptive when it comes to Earth Day.
The collective was on hand at the celebration with a viewable hive and with information to share on how important bees are to nature.
“It’s exciting because there are so many young people who are interested in seeing the bees, but it also sets the stage for people that care about the environment to know that bees are such an important part of the ecosystem,” Giles said.
According to Giles, every one in three bites we take of food is because of the pollination of bees.
“Without them, we wouldn’t have all the things that we enjoy, the variety of food that we enjoy,” Giles continued.
Giles urged the public to plant native flowers and not to use pesticides, adding that one of the big reasons the collective was started in this portion of the state was because of an absence of pesticide use in the past.
According to Giles, the honey produced by the collective is great-tasting and pesticide-free.
“You can’t say that about most honey in this country,” Giles said.
The health of the environment and the health of bees plays a direct role in the success of Sprouting Farms, a Summers County agricultural incubator nonprofit.
“It’s good to see people coming out,” said Brad Moody, the resource manager for Sprouting Farms who was on hand to discuss the incubator and give the attendees tips on environmentally safe farming methods.
For Moody, growing crops and protecting the environment go hand in hand.
“It means protecting the soil,” Moody said, “to keep everything so that they will grow.”
As for protecting that soil, Moody said those who are growing their own crops should stay away from only growing one specific crop and should also source nutrients from multiple natural sources, including using a compost pile.
Andy Sheetz, the partnership coordinator with the West Virginia Department of Forestry, was also at the event as a form of outreach.
“We have the third most forested state in the country,” Sheetz said.
As a way to protect that resource, Sheetz was on hand to quiz the attendees on different types of local trees and to share with them some of the state’s programs to manage those trees.
The partnership coordinator was particularly proud of the state’s Mountaineer Treeways programs.
Through that program, Sheetz finds grant funds to purchase trees for organizations to plant on public land.
Through that planting and through events like Sunday’s, Sheetz sees the state managing its forest resources well.
“It’s a great celebration,” Sheetz said of the gathered crowd. “Great way to remind everybody to take care of the Earth. We’re all here and we all need to take care of it or it’s not going to take care of us.”
Nancy Martin, an event organizer, also shared the sentiment.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful place and we need to preserve it,” Martin said.
While planting trees, environmentally friendly farming and beekeeping are options for some, Martin shared steps that everyone can take including not littering, using reusable water bottles and shopping bags, planting house plants and recycling.
“There’s some pretty easy steps they (the public) can take that would help a whole lot,” Martin said.
Citing the dangers of plastics, which are not biodegradable and harmful if burned, Martin keyed in on trying to minimize plastic use.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, nearly eight million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, adding to a total of an estimated 150 million tons already in the ocean.
For Harry Peck, cleaning up litter and minimizing plastic use are common sense.
“I like living on this earth, taking care of it, and I hope others do too,” Peck said.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH