Today is officially Earth Day, and I am travelling. This year, my actual celebration of this day came a couple days ago, in an unexpected place. I was in Florida’s Panhandle for family reasons, cleaning and repairing a place that my father-in-law loved. Nestled on the coastline in between two state parks, the area is both burgeoning with development and rife with bike paths, dune restoration projects, and hiking trails. In between sad but necessary tasks, there were opportunities to reflect on how I have seen this area change over the past thirty plus years.
I remember a time before the bike paths, before “America’s Birding Trail” came here, before the condo projects lined County Highway 30-A. I also remember when the first bike path was built, and I could ride for miles without meeting a soul. On this visit, even though it’s the “off season,” I had to wake early to get a quiet ride before the day brought out its bustle of walkers, runners, families on “beach cruisers,” and folks strolling slowly with binoculars. It is marvelous to see so many people enjoying time outside.
I decided that it was time for me to say “thank you” to this place, so Saturday morning, I joined a group of volunteers for a beach clean-up at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The ranger handed us trash bags and vinyl gloves. He told us to bring the trash we collected to him because a group of students would use it in an art project later that day as part of an Earth Day Festival at the Park. The festival included educational programs, family activities, music and local food and culminated with a sunset 5K run/walk to benefit Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
The beach was actually quite “clean” and I had to work diligently to find enough trash to contribute to the art project. I mostly found plastic bottle tops and remnants of plastic bags. My “best” finds were a toothbrush and a German watch battery still in its packaging. I also found a Portuguese Man-of-War which, of course, wasn’t “trash,” but looked so strange on the beach instead of in its watery world that it could fool a person.
At the end of the day my husband and I joined over 180 runners and walkers for the benefit 5K. The group was a mix of lithe adolescents in track club jackets, parents running with their pre-teen children, couples with baby joggers, and walkers with heart monitors and extra water bottles. There were people from the RV park, the 4-H club, and the Air Force base. We were all there because the Park is there - and the Park is there because of all of us. It was a fitting way to celebrate Earth Day, for me, in South Walton County – joining people to benefit a place they loved. Giving something back to the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park was but small thanks for all that this place has meant to friends and family over the years.
Tonight, when I’m back in the Upper Valley, I’ll still be warmed by the fun and fellowship of caring for land, and I will be happily at home in the place I love.
Jeanie McIntyre, President