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Blog post by: Emily Dings, D&L Assistant
The Earth could be forgiven for wondering where the party was this year.
On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, millions of Americans mobilized on behalf of the environment through community clean-ups, teach-ins, and marches. The response was so powerful that it set the stage for unprecedented environmental legislation in the years to come.
On April 22, 2020, a very different scene unfolded. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we weren’t allowed to gather in groups. Instead, we were asked to stay in our homes, if not working long shifts as essential workers. Maintaining social distance from others, we wore masks when running errands and observed strict hygiene rituals. Earth Day celebrations—like work meetings and birthday parties—were relegated to digital platforms.
It was sobering to observe the golden anniversary of Earth Day in isolation. Here at the D&L, we would ordinarily be basking in the glow of a sparkling Hugh Moore Park after our annual clean-up with dozens of volunteers. We’d be watching the mules run their paces. Looking forward to welcoming school groups for Immersion Days. Prepping the boat for its first spring voyages.
But although we’re missing our typical spring season, we’re finding ways to keep spirits high as we celebrate Earth Day 50. We recommend the following.
Although the news has often been grim lately, there are still many bright spots to be found. Our communities have shown up for each other in new and powerful ways. Sewing machines throughout the Corridor have been abuzz as we’ve sewed masks for our medical professionals. We have run errands for our elderly neighbors and donated blood. We’ve spent more time with those we live with and reconnected with friends and family with whom we’d lost touch. And once the pandemic period is behind us, these connections are sure to remain.
There’s good news on the environmental front, too. With rates of traffic down as much as 50% in the Corridor, there have been marked improvements in air quality. Although this outcome resulted from a negative event, it has shown us that our habits really do impact our environment. We may sometimes worry that we are past the point of no return with regard to saving our natural resources. The quarantine period has shown us that reducing car travel—instead choosing to bike, walk, or take mass transit—can have immediate positive effects.
For a positive development completely unrelated to the pandemic, we’re also celebrating the fact that the Delaware River was just voted River of the Year by American Rivers! That one of our Corridor’s beloved rivers was recognized for its dramatic turnaround in water quality and ecosystem health is cause for celebration if we’ve ever seen one.
Because this is also Volunteer Appreciation Week, we have been thinking especially of our volunteers who tend and patrol the D&L. Our trail has become an even more precious natural resource during the stay-at-home period, in large part because our partners and volunteers have stewarded it so well. Although we are not organizing volunteer events at present due to safety precautions, we are asking trail users to maintain the great work of our Trail Tenders and Trail Patrol during this time. We always pack out any trash we bring with us when we hit the trail, as trash receptacles are not currently being emptied.
Although we are all siloed in our individual homes, there are still ways we can make a difference in our communities. Organizations such as the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley provide weekly updates on ways you can help from your home or in safe environments. Earth Day has provided a Take Action Now page full of digital actions you can take now to protect the environment.
Practicing Earth-friendly habits when you can is also a way to stay focused and positive during this time. Organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) offer a number of ways you can adapt your daily routine for the better of the planet (see above). Try introducing one new habit per week–such as buying local produce or riding your bike to run errands–to reduce your carbon footprint. And take advantage of the D&L, Lehigh Valley Greenways, and LINK Trail Network to get around as much as you can!
Remember that Earth Day is every day, and that one day, things will look much different than they do right now. We’ll be able to gather in our favorite places, resume our daily rituals, and feel the satisfaction of participating in group projects that strengthen our communities. We look forward to showing you our next museum exhibit and inviting you to gather with family and friends on the trail.
We’re keeping our eyes on the prize of being fully operational again as it becomes safe to do so. We hope you’ll share our perspective and consider joining us as a volunteer when we get up and running again. And if you would like to support our work in additional ways, please consider making a gift or becoming a member.
The pandemic has shown us beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re one world, all in this together. From our exhibits at the National Canal Museum to the Ambassador Program to the D&L Half Marathon and everything in between, the Corridor connects us in ways that go far beyond geography.