They brightened roadsides. They badgered polluters. They buried automobiles. And they built forests. In one day, no less.
It was 1970. Americans were full of spunk, and the country was full of junk. Earth Day used one to begin to fix the other.
On April 22, millions of Americans, many of them students, took to the streets -- and streams -- to pick up debris and decry the state of the environment.
In some communities, their legacy still stands.
A modest erosion-control effort by college students on the first Earth Day 25 years ago has yielded a sumptuous, wildlife-rich woods near Manchester, in Carroll County.
And, like the forest, Earth Day has evolved considerably since its beginning as a massive, slightly nutty national rally.
On the first Earth Day, protests produced more headlines than plantings. Participants piled trash around politicians' doors, splashed oil outside industrialists' offices and even painted Old Glory green, to decry the planet's ills.
But demonstrations tapered off as the environmental movement seeped into America's psyche. Earth Day began as a free-spirited activity, but metamorphosed into a national mind-set, say those who were there at the start.
"What we did that day was make people more aware of the problems," says Linton Warneke Beaven who, as a Western Maryland College student, took part in the inaugural Earth Day. "I don't think there's as much trash thrown on the road as there used to be. And most people aren't going to dump raw sewage into Chesapeake Bay today."
It wasn't all confrontation in 1970. With no fanfare, Earth Day took root in places like the Robert Hunter farm where Western Maryland College students swarmed over a barren hillside to plant 20,000 pine seedlings.
Today, those evergreens provide dense sanctuary for deer and small game, including foxes, pheasants and wild turkeys. Nearly 40 feet tall, the woods linger for one-fourth of a mile, providing a lush backdrop visible to motorists on busy Route 30.
That news surprises Ms. Beaven, one of more than 300 young men and women who took part in the Plant-In.
"Forty feet? You're kidding!" she says. "You mean we did something of lasting importance?"
Troops toiled in tandem, she recalled, digging holes and positioning trees. The Plant-In paired hippies and crew-cuts. On Earth Day, sandals worked alongside sneakers.
"That was our little part for the planet," says Ms. Beaven, now a marine biologist in Solomons, Calvert County. "Earth Day was a neat thing (in 1970); it went with the music, the clothes, being irreverent, the whole deal."
A part for all
University of Baltimore students buried a car engine to protest pollution from automobiles. In Catonsville, teen-agers paraded through town wearing white surgical masks. And a group from Patterson High picketed a burning dump in East Baltimore.
No one was too young to demonstrate. Students from Belvedere Elementary, in Arnold, marched onto the campus of nearby Anne Arundel Community College to show their concern for the Earth. Peter Lamb held a placard that read, "Stop the world, I want to get off. All I do is cough, cough, cough." Three-year-old Maureen Pope fumbled with a sign that asked, "I pick up my toys. Do you?"
Many schools did the unusual for Earth Day. Boycotting buses and cars, students at Archbishop Keough High School used bikes and roller skates to get there. Goucher College held a "Trash Bash," with dormitories competing to pick up the most garbage on campus.
At Hawthorne Elementary, in Middle River, beaming students christened a nature trail that had taken them months to carve from a junk-riddled swamp behind the school. In place of old tires and trash were more than 200 shrubs and trees.
In College Park, some 600 students at the University of Maryland celebrated with a "Tent-Out" and a "Lie-In." They slept overnight on the campus mall, in "a communion with lawn-mown nature," and remained there on Earth Day, clanging cow bells to protest highway expansion.
An editorial in the Diamondback, the campus newspaper, urged students to (a) car pool and (b) refrain from buying "frivolous" electronic equipment.
Civic groups also embraced Earth Day. The Lutherville Garden Club staged its own "Litter Walk." Members of the Dulaney Valley Women's Club gathered trash along Pot Spring Road.
Even Fort McHenry got into the act: At the visitor's center, the hourly historical film was preceded by a five-minute environmental short.
Anti-pollution speeches and demonstrations swept the country. Most were peaceful, though 13 people were arrested at the Boston airport during a mock funeral protesting the advent of the supersonic transport plane. At a rally in Portland, Maine, authorities confiscated an American flag with green stripes instead of red.
In San Francisco, members of an environmental group dumped oil in the reflecting pool outside the offices of Standard Oil Co., to protest tanker spills. Demonstrators in Washington ended a rally outside the Interior Department by spilling oil on the steps, .. to protest offshore drilling.
In Clarksburg, W.Va., residents gathered five tons of garbage from a 5-mile stretch along U.S. 50 and deposited it on the steps of their county courthouse. The Kiwanis Club of Jamestown, N.Y., dumped 20 tons of sand in the center of town to illustrate how much dirt falls on the city each month.
The automobile was vilified nationwide on Earth Day. In Tacoma, Wash., 100 teen-agers rode to class on horseback. In Topeka, Kan., they rode skateboards to school. Ohio University students pasted "This is a polluter" stickers on cars. Some communities buried whole automobiles.
Many big cities staged Earth Day rallies that drew crowds of 25,000 or more. In New York, Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic as 100,000 people strolled the street, including Mayor John Lindsay. Behind him, demonstrators pushed a tree on wheels.
"We must end this self-pollution before it ends us," the mayor said, as environmental leaflets swirled around him.
Trying to be "green," many members of Congress addressed rallies across the country in what the New York Times called "a spate of oratory." Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall told Kent State University students, "We are a nation of environmental slobs." Maryland Congressman Rogers C. B. Morton told a gathering at Anne Arundel Community College: "I could give you statistics to define the pollution problem until a cow gives beer."
People found innovative ways to highlight environmental problems. Students in Omaha, Neb., created a mock "Pollution Room," a locker room filled with smoke, sulfur fumes, garbage and tubs of green water.
High above Los Angeles, a skywriting pilot scrawled a single word: Air.
And on a balding slope in Carroll County, a group of college students worked like green terrors to plant a 20-acre forest by nightfall. Some held races to see who could plant the most trees. Others seemed to bond with the seedlings, promising to return.
Several students have come back to Robert Hunter's farm, families in tow, to check the progress of "their" trees. "They wanted to show their kids what they did on the first Earth Day," Mr. Hunter says. "It's good they remembered."
One recent visitor was Harry Staley, a former state forester who helped organize the Plant-In. Last week, the two men tromped through the dense woods, following winding deer trails and examining the flora.
"It's hard to believe that, 25 years ago, these trees were the width of a pencil," Mr. Staley said, leaning against a fat pine almost a foot in diameter. "Everyone is aware now that trees are good, but it was a novel idea back then. In 1970, people didn't all think that way."
Mr. Hunter's woods are safe, for the moment.
Despite encroaching development, and the fact that his land is zoned for one-acre house lots, Mr. Hunter hopes to preserve his property as is. The forest included.
"I'd like to have thanked every one of those kids who planted the trees," Mr. Hunter says. "I still would. I know they did it for Earth Day, but they did it on my property. I really appreciate that -- and so do the deer."
PAINT THE TOWN GREEN
Here is a sampling of Earth Day events next weekend:
* Pine Seedling Giveaway, in lobby of Tawes Building, Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue in Annapolis. Sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (410) 974-3776.
* Greater Patapsco Community Association sponsors "Earth Day Charm City," a clean-up and tree-planting, along Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in South Baltimore. Starts at 10 a.m. (410) 547-7217 or 962-8163.
* Gunpowder Valley Conservancy holds tree plantings, stream and roadside clean-ups from North Point to Hereford. Starts 10 a.m. (410) 661-1233.
* Gunpowder Falls State Park Cleanup Day. Trail maintenance and tree planting (10,000 seedlings). Starts 10 a.m. (410) 592-2897.
* Tree Planting and Tree Care Workshop, at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. Free (registration required). (410) 974-3776.
* Earth Day celebration at Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace. Plant walk, skipjack race, free pine seedlings and photo contest for children. Activities start at 8 a.m. (410) 974-3382 or 638-3339.
* "Rites of Spring" celebration at Patapsco State Park in Marriottsville. Three hundred hardwood trees to be planted by volunteers. 9 a.m. start. (410) 461-5005.
(-- Compiled by Mike Klingaman