Sunny weather greets visitors 12th annual Earth Day event in Aberdeen

Things that could be trashed become game pieces at Aberdeen Earth Day

Alex Shipley has played many games of chess, but Saturday was the first time he played with oversized pieces made from recycled materials, one of the many games that could be played with recycled, reused and donated materials during Aberdeen's 12th annual festival to celebrate Earth Day.

The official Earth Day, which turns 45 years old this year, will be Wednesday.

Alex, 16, of Havre de Grace, and his opponent, 16-year-old Zach Clifford of Bel Air, considered their moves just as cautiously as if they were playing with a traditional chess set, even though they were standing on an oversized board and using bright orange and blue pieces made from bicycle and construction helmets, pipes welded together and what appeared to be bicycle parts.

"I've never played with such a large set before," Alex said. "It's just like any other chess set."

He added: "I think it's great to help the environment."

The event, held in the city's Festival Park, was sponsored by the City of Aberdeen, along with local businesses and organizations such as the Aberdeen Lions Club, Harford Bank and PNC Bank.

Families filled the park during the sunny and warm afternoon as they took in live music, food, various vendors such as environmental organizations, government agencies, businesses, even the Baltimore Orioles, animals and games with recycled materials.

About 49 vendors participated in the festival, according to organizers.

"You have weather like this, that's the first ingredient that we root for," Earth Day coordinator Jim Litke said.

Litke called the event a "rolling festival," and he noted there was no "main focus." Visitors could take in any aspect they wanted, whether it was the music, vendors or games, all while learning about the need to take care of the environment.

"I call it, 'Trying to plant the seeds of environmentalism and letting them grow,' " he said. "Hopefully, it grows into the next generation."

The games included chess, kicking a used plastic milk carton through a football upright, a Frisbee toss and Scrap Hockey.

Children and adults could play street hockey in an 8-by-8 rink made from scrap wood. Lengths of garden hose covered the top edges of the box, and the players used old sticks.

The rinks were set up on North Parke Street in front of Aberdeen City Hall, and the street was closed to vehicle traffic, as the ball frequently went flying out of the box during play.

Keith Gabel, 43, of Abingdon, battled his 11-year-old son Steven, and he threw up his arms in celebration as he scored a goal through a slot cut in the wood.

He said later that this year's Earth Day festival is the third he and his family have attended.

Gabel called the festival "a lot of fun."

"We discovered it by accident; we've been coming ever since," he said. "It's an affordable, family-friendly event, usually with beautiful weather."

Steven said the family also brings canned goods to donate.

Gabel also commented on the games.

"You can really have a lot of fun with what at first appearance might be trash, but you can use it for all sorts of fun things," he said.

Several Harford County grass roots environmental organizations had booths, and the director of one organization said awareness of environmental issues such as climate change is growing in Harford, as well as efforts to live in a healthier and more eco-friendly manner.

"I think Harford County is becoming a Mecca for plant-based nutrition," Wendy McPherson, director of DineKind Harford Healthy Living, said.

A large poster was on display at the DineKind tent, and it included multiple messages about how people can reduce water consumption on a personal and global level, and cut greenhouse gases by eating locally-grown produce and meat from locally-raised livestock rather than food produced through industrial-level agricultural operations.

"I think, just, all of us have this knowledge, and we want to share it with other people," McPherson said.

Members of the volunteer group Harford County Climate Action encouraged people passing by to write on green sticky notes their thoughts about how Harford residents can protect the environment.

Thoughts ranged from mandatory recycling to preserving farms, gardening, bike riding, and according to one note: "We need to elect only environmentally minded people in our county."

"I'm just really excited about the number of groups that are forming that have a common vision for a healthier Harford County, healthier for all of us – for all the humans and the environment," Climate Action founder Tracey Waite, of Bel Air, said.

Jason Barnstein, an independent associate with the green energy firm Viridian, talked with visitors about solar energy and how people can use it in their homes, produce power and return any unused electricity to grids owned by major utilities such as BGE.

Barnstein noted Viridian, which is headquartered in Stamford, Conn., has partnered with solar energy provider SolarCity, based in San Mateo, Calif., and materials from both companies were on display under his tent.

Barnstein also said he attends a number of community events, where he promotes green energy, but he particularly enjoyed the Earth Day event in Aberdeen.

"I like this because it has its theme, so for the most part, people are here to get educated about being green," he said.

Barnstein said there was less foot traffic at the Aberdeen event than at a standard local fair or festival, but the audience was "more quality."

"People want to learn about what's going on in their community, how they can do their part," he said.

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