Earth Day celebrations show area’s devotion to planet

The message “Earth Day begins with you,” written on a black chalkboard, welcomed visitors Saturday to the clock tower patio and farmers market in downtown Overland Park.

Sunshine and pleasant mid-morning temperatures just below 60 degrees helped lure hundreds to the area, where a variety of products from the earth — petunias to produce, honey to homemade breads — could be purchased. Attendees also could drop off outdated computers and other no-longer-needed items for recycling.

“You couldn’t ask for more perfect weather for Earth Day,” said Deborah Crane, who heads up the Downtown Overland Park Partnership, host of the day’s three-hour celebration of all things green and earthy.

National Earth Day was founded in 1970 by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin when a call for national awareness of the deterioration of the environment resulted in Americans taking to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.

That first Earth Day led to creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. The recognition went global in 1990 with a huge recycling effort, and an estimated 200 million people around the world rallying to protect the planet.

Today the movement is celebrated annually in April with recycling efforts and the promotion of products that don’t damage the planet.

On Overland Park’s clock tower patio, people brought bundles of old cellphones and dropped them in a box set up by Safehome, Johnson County’s only domestic violence shelter. Megan Sanchez, spokeswoman for the shelter, said the phones would be recycled by a group called Shelter Alliance, which in turn gives money to Safehome to help its residents. Cellular phones contain toxic materials that can pollute the environment, Crane explained.

In a parking lot at 80th and Marty streets, a white Shred-It truck chewed up loads of paper brought by residents. Nearby, a mound of old computers, televisions and other electronics grew large, awaiting a pickup by Surplus Exchange for recycling.

All-natural artwork was displayed by The Studio, an Overland Park business.

And city workers handed out nearly 300 young trees — maple, elm and oak — to passers-by who they hoped would plant them this weekend in their yards.

“It’s to promote tree planting,” said Sarah Patterson, Overland Park’s forester. “It is a good and easy way to have fun with the family.”

Her colleague, Pam Fortein, the city’s stormwater treatment engineer, pushed a cost-share deal where residents who bought rain barrels or constructed a rain garden could get a 50 percent reimbursement from the city, up to $75 for the barrels and $1,000 for the garden.

Elsewhere in the Kansas City area, other cities celebrated Earth Day in a variety of ways.

One of the larger and longer-running events happened in Kansas City, where hundreds laced up sports shoes for the 16th annual EarthWalk at Theis Park, benefiting Bridging the Gap. Walkers donned self-designed T-shirts that explained why they were walking for the environment. Prizes were given for the best designs.

Before the walking began, StoneLion Puppet Theatre presented the StoneLion Puppet Carnivale, featuring drumming, dancing and larger-than-life puppets. Along with dozens of environmentally friendly exhibits, the pre-walk festivities included an extinct animal train, an arts-and-crafts wagon and a 40-foot by 40-foot environmental maze.

The Overland Park scene was festive, too.

Small bunches of green balloons marked the perimeter of the celebration and caught the eyes of tots in tow and tugging on an adult hand toward the long line formed for balloons on a string.

Lauren Coldman made a deal with her 6-year-old. Her daughter waited with other family members for a balloon while Mom sneaked away to the patio for a free massage. Coldman took the event’s welcome sign to heart, straddled the massage chair and lowered her head onto the face rest.

Susan Cunningham with Shawnee Mission Medical Center moved her hands gently across Coldman’s back, shoulders and arms for five, maybe 10 minutes.

“This is a treat,” said Coldman, who had never gotten a massage before but now was sure this would be the first of many.

“It is fantastic. Earth Day starts with you.”