Aiken celebrates Earth Day with hikes, e-waste collection, education

April 22, 2018

The City of Aiken celebrated Earth Day on Saturday, welcoming droves of people to both Hitchcock Woods and Newberry Street.

The celebration, the fourth annual in the downtown area, kicked off at 8 a.m. with a guided tour of Aiken’s largest urban forest.

Bennett Tucker, the Hitchcock Woods superintendent, and Harry Shealy, a Hitchcock Woods Foundation board member, led the day’s first group to Memorial Gate and back.

Along the way, Tucker and Shealy explained the significance of Hitchcock Woods – a 2,100-acre forested expanse – and its inhabitants, some rarer than others.

While Tucker pointed out the wildlife and trees, Shealy explained how plants, some native and some invasive, got their name.

Both men also stressed the importance of Earth Day, a day meant for education and awareness, Tucker said, during the hour-and-a-half roundtrip hike.

Earth Day, as a whole, marks the birth of the environmental movement. The celebration traces back to protests in April 1970 that highlighted the need for more environmentally friendly lifestyles and choices. Earth Day will turn 50 in 2020.

In Aiken, the Energy andEnvironmental Committee and a throng of other volunteers are charged with putting on the Earth Day festival. Earth Day 2017 welcomed 2,000 attendees.

Tucker said Earth Day is a holiday that should be honored every day because natural resources – the forest included – are just that important.

“This is such a unique place,” Tucker said. “It’s part of what makes Aiken special.”

Hitchcock Woods could have been lost to mining, timbering or commercial development. But it wasn’t.

And that sort of preservation is what Earth Day is all about, Shealy said.

“The land down here is incredibly valuable,” Shealy said, referencing all its recreational uses and patrons. “Is this not idyllic down here?”

On Newberry Street, Earth Day was exemplified by way of pro-conservation vendors, bicycle rides, electronic waste collection and a proclamation from Mayor Rick Osbon.

There were countless vendors lining Newberry Street and The Alley on Saturday, one of them being the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken.

Dr. Gary Senn, the center’s director, staffed the booth and offered those interested a look at the sky through nearby telescopes.

Senn said the key to Earth Day and overall environmental education is engagement. He said it “ups the level of appreciation.”

“We live on a a planet that is delicate and fragile,” Senn said, “and we need to take care of it.”

Across the way and a little later, Osbon took to the stage to announce April 21 as “Solarize Aiken Day.”

“Our future is bright,” Osbon had said. “Let’s solarize.”

In a followup interview, the mayor said Aiken is an environmentally conscious city, so the solar energy proclamation is “a natural fit.”

“The environment is important to Aiken,” Osbon, who attributed a successful Earth Day to the Energy and Environmental Committee, said. “It’s part of what makes us the South’s best small town.”

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