Ecology Center Draws Families For Yearly Earth Day Festival

Karina Martinez-Carter

By Karina Martinez-CarterThe Daily Northwestern

Barb McKeegan’s baby grandson gripped a card made of recycled paper and brought it toward his mouth.

“No,” she said to him. “We want to recycle, but not using our mouths.”

McKeegan, a Chicago resident, brought her family to the combined Earth Day and Arbor Day festival held Saturday afternoon at the Evanston Ecology Center at 2024 McCormick Blvd.

“We are always interested in new ways to do things (to get) the kids involved with the environment,” McKeegan said. “We looked for events in Chicago and didn’t see anything that was going on, so we came up here.”

The annual event featured interactive stations focused on the “four R’s” – reduce, reuse, recycle and recover, said Ellen Fierer, one of the center’s environment educators.

Weather is always a variable that affects attendance, Fierer said, because the event is held inside and outdoors. Last year, she said, it was much colder and only a handful of people attended.

This year, people meandered down the adjacent Ladd Arboretum’s “Tricky Tree Trail,” played mixed-age games of pickup football on the grass and sat on blankets while listening to The Giving Tree Band perform. Some stayed inside to visit the different stations or to craft a greeting card from recycled paper.

At one point, attendees gathered by the ecology center’s rustic fireplace to play “Stump the Arborist” with Evanston arborist Mark Younger. Younger called children up to the microphone to ask him about trees.

McKeegan’s eight-year-old daughter, Rilla, was the first person he called on. Rilla asked what language the word “arbor” was derived from and if her family’s magnolia tree, which bloomed before the most recent cold snap, would bloom again.

One child eager to win one of the bandanas Younger was giving out as prizes asked a question for which Younger could only guess.

“What kind of tree do I have in my backyard?” the young girl asked.

Brandi Martin watched the contest from her station alongside the wall. Martin, a high school sophomore, was manning the “reuse” table, encouraging people to be creative with their used bags or baskets, to use a water bottle more than once and to mail in their old ink cartridges.

Martin worked at the Ecology Center last year as part of a requirement for her freshman biology class and enjoyed it so much that she returned this year as a volunteer.

“I enjoy how mellow it is here,” she said. “I like to help people learn, but it’s not just me helping others – I learn too.”

Fierer said the Ecology Center staff works to keep the information up to date each year so that returning attendees can always learn something new.

Education was one focus of the event, but Fierer said she wasn’t concerned that some children were only running around outside rather than looking at the educational materials. In fact, that was what she wanted.

“No child left inside is what we are going for,” Fierer said. “We want kids back out in nature so they have a connection with the environment.”

Reach Karina Martinez-Carter at [email protected]