Willow River State Park

On the Nelson Farm Trail in Willow River State Park. File photo 

As the area marks Earth Day this Thursday, April 22 - with clean ups, talks and a groundbreaking of the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center - some residents have been wondering what the history is behind it. This international event actually has Wisconsin roots. 

The history

In the 1960s, Americans were starting to understand the effects of pollution on the earth and the environment. According to history.com, protecting the planet’s natural resources was not yet part of the national political agenda and there were only a few activists dedicated to large environmental issues, including carbon dioxide emissions and industrial pollution.

The founder

Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was elected in 1962 and immediately started his work to convince the federal government that the planet was in danger. In 1969, Nelson developed the idea for Earth Day after viewing the anti-war teach-ins that were taking place on college campuses around the U.S.

According to history.com, Nelson envisioned a large-scale, grassroots environmental demonstration that would force this issue onto the national agenda.

Nelson would later state, “The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

The first Earth Day

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 and major cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York participated. In Washington, thousands of people gathered to listen to speeches and performances.

According to earthday.com, by the end of 1970s, the first Earth Day had helped with the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of other first environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act and Clean Air Act.

As of today, over 1 billion people and 190 countries have participated in different Earth Day efforts.


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