I didn’t live in Wisconsin yet when then-Senator Gaylord Nelson came up with the suggestion for the first Earth Day, which took place fifty years ago this Wednesday (April 22). Even after I moved here and took frequent walks in Governor Nelson State Park, it took a while to make the connection.
Two societal changes of the late 1960s gave Nelson the idea. One was increasing environmental awareness, heightened by the Cuyahoga River fire and the Santa Barbara oil spill. The other was student anti-war protests, which showed the power of demonstrations to influence public policy.
I walked at Governor Nelson a couple of weeks ago, before our state parks had to close because crowding undercut social distancing. We can’t take our out-of-doors for granted. Hope you can find a place with six-foot-wide trails to pass other walkers safely, where you can still enjoy the spring and celebrate half a century of Earth Day.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.