The History of Berks County Earth Day
Moving from Pottstown to Reading in 1987, I got involved with some of the environmental groups in Berks County. We talked about how to reach out to citizens of Berks County, and decided to host an Earth Day event to raise awareness.
The first Earth Day event that we organized was in 1989. We held two events that year – one at Gring’s Mill, and the other at Fairgrounds Mall. I worked for two days at Fairgrounds Mall. It was a tough beginning.
In 1990, we moved the event to Reading’s City Park. We felt that our event should be based in the city. From 1990 on, the City of Reading has partnered with us on our Earth Day event. We have also worked closely with Reading Beautification.
We held our event at City Park from 1990 through 2003.
In 1997 we worked with Safety Kleen and had a collection of waste motor oil, used oil filters, and anti-freeze. We invited Chief Halftown to our event. For those of my generation, Chief Halftown was a well-known local celebrity who talked about his culture, songs, and attire. And we initiated the Berks County Rachel Carson Youth Activism Contest with winners announced at our event. We donated profits from our event to local organizations including the Reading Shade Tree Commission for its Adopt-A-Tree program, Berks County Conservation District for the Don Hartman Educational Scholarship Program, Schuylkill Riverkeepers for the first Watershed Congress, Recycling Services Inc for a mobile composting unit, Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center, Berks Environmental Forum, Berks Sierra Club to establish a memorial fund for Earl Fake, and the Berks County Conservancy for a project with Exeter Schools on Neversink Mountain.
In 1998 we had to use our rain date of May 3rd. Even so, Berks Countians showed up in large numbers. Maya K van Rossum from the Delaware Riverkeepers Network gave a talk on Riverkeeper network, and the importance of protecting our waterways. Peter Kostmayer, executive director of the Washington DC based organization called Zero Population Growth gave a talk on preserving farmland and stemming suburban sprawl. Reading Beautification received the first Earth Day “Green Community Award”. The event also included many children’s activities including a puppet show, face painting, planting seedlings.
In 1999 we had John D Laskowski’s bug display as a great draw and educational attraction. Dubbed “Moth Man”, Laskowski attracted many to his exhibit. With our theme of “Think Globally, Act Locally”, we invited three special speakers to our event. Judy Schwank spoke about land-use issues in the county. Joe Hoffman, environmental director for the Berks County Conservancy, spoke about the awarding of the Lucent Technology Funds to conservation at City Park. Evan Pappas of the Clean Air Council spoke about electric utility deregulation. East Penn collected batteries – I think they collected batteries almost every year. Mountain Mary (Iris Lonker) gave a walking performance highlighting the history of Berks County.
In 2000 we again had speakers including Joe Hoffman and Terry Kauffman of the Berks County Conservancy, Evan Pappas of the Clean Air Council, and Ken Wolfskill of the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania who discussed the relationship of bluebirds in an area to environmental degradation. Other features included the Berks Astronautical Club, Boyertown Museum of Historical Vehicles highlighted electric cars – mostly from before my time.
In 2001, we featured alternative energy vehicles from Toyota (Prius), Boyertown Museum of Historical
Vehicles, and Jim Crater. We also had car battery recycling sponsored by East Penn Manufacturing, a petting zoo by Appalachian Petting Zoo, and for children’s entertainment – teacher / singer Jim Rule.
2002 was the 250th anniversary of Berks County. Working with the county and the 250th Anniversary group, the Berks County Earth Day Festival was an even bigger event. Berks County held a parade which ended at noon at City Park – just in time for our event. We featured (among others) earthworms (always good for Mother Earth), reptiles from Pocono Snake & Reptile, belly dancers, and more. Jim Rule performed children’s music. Nolde did a puppet show. The Reading Nature Center featured live animals and a Native American teepee.
At City Park we had an outdoor event with rain date. A couple years, we had to use the rain date. In 2004, it rained on both the date and the rain date which put us in a tough spot financially. We spent all the moneys on the prep, and had minimal income that year – so we lost money.
In 2005, we downsized the event, and moved to Reading’s Centre Park. We had tremendous support from Mike Lauter and others from the Centre Park Historical Society. We stayed in Centre Park for through 2008.
The 2008 festival at Centre Park included tours of Charles Evans Cemetery, Red Creek Wildlife bringing rescue birds, and recycling by East Penn – car and motorcycle battery recycling; and Cartridge World printer cartridge recycling.
In 2009, we moved the event to Reading’s Riverfront Park. We wanted a rain-or-shine event and we needed space for tents. Centre Park was not the place for that.
In 2010, we featured electronics recycling in partnership with 1-800-GOT-JUNK? As well as collections for ink and toner cartridges by Cartridge World, and car and truck batteries by Deka / East Penn. We also had live animal show with Pocono Snake and Animal Farm. And among our exhibitors was a perennial favorite – the Berks Astronomy Club,
After many years of holding our event, in 2018 we couldn’t find enough volunteers to put on our event. We did not have an event in 2018 or 2019.
In 2021, we moved back to City Park in the City of Reading. With a reinvigorated volunteer pool, we are looking forward to 2022 and to getting the word out about the impact of the many decisions that we make.