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Friday, April 23, 2004 03:46 pm

Quick take 4-22-04

As Wisconsin's governor in the 1950s, Gaylord Nelson responded to demand on his state's outdoor recreational opportunities by pushing for more parks and wildlife refuges. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, Nelson brought his passion for the environment to the nation's capital.

There, Nelson persuaded President Kennedy go on a nationwide tour to promote conservation. "For many reasons," Nelson later wrote, "the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda." The environment, as now, competed with other pressing concerns. Unemployment. Crime. And, of course, war.

Nelson saw how effective the anti-war movement had become, so he decided to borrow from the peace movement. He proposed holding a national "teach-in" to bridge the gap between environmental activists and the public. His idea took hold, and the first Earth Day was born. There were speeches, folk singers, and creative protests. In New York City, demonstrators dragged a net of dead fish through the streets. By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created.

Today, 34 years later, Earth Day is still being celebrated by folks who, like Gaylord Nelson, want to make a difference.

Here are a few scheduled events in Springfield:

• Today, April 22, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., Partners for Parks and Wildlife will be lobbying state lawmakers at the Capitol to restore $34 million in proposed budget cuts. The money's for preserving open space and natural areas.

• Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., go to Lincoln Park for the 12th annual Earth Awareness Fair. The event features recycling drop-offs, hands-on activities for kids, exhibits, and a thermometer exchange (bring a mercury thermometer, get a digital).

• Tuesday, April 27, at 7 p.m., the Sierra Club hosts a presentation at Lincoln Library on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Tongass National Forest -- and the oil and timber operations that threaten those wilderness areas.

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