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Volunteers plant for Earth Day

By Ed Brock

It was literally a dirty job, but Luke Wyland and 15 other volunteers were glad to spend Tuesday, Earth Day 2003, making U.S. Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park greener in fact and spirit.

"I like this kind of stuff, getting your hands full of dirt," Wyland, a civilian employee of the fort's environmental division, told one of his fellow volunteers.

Tuesday's project was to plant a garden of rose bushes, brown-eyed Susans, azaleas and butterfly bushes in front the Military Entrance Processing Station near the fort's Jonesboro Road entrance.

In fact, for the past three Earth Days the environmental division and other volunteers have planted trees, cleaned the lakes and engaged in other projects around the MEPS. This year will be the last for working on the MEPs, said Sharon Duncan, project support assistant for the base commander, but there are at least three new buildings going up on the fort.

"Any of the (units in the) new buildings that want to pick us up for our next Earth Day, we will be there," Duncan said.

Earth Day was begun on April 22, 1970 by then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson and is considered the "birth of the modern environmental movement," according to the Earth Day Network Web site. Some 20 million people participated in rallies around the country to protest for a healthy environment during that first Earth Day and it led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Earth Day celebrations were sparse through the county Tuesday, but a crowd of around 200 came to Earth Day celebrations at Reynold's Nature Preserve in Morrow Saturday.

"At first I was very nervous because I woke up and it was cold and spitting rain but it turned out to be a nice day," said Stephanie Lucas, preserve manager.

The Audubon Society and the Georgia Wildlife Association had information booths at the event and school children who attended filled out a questionnaire with information from each booth in order to win an Earth Day T-shirt.

There were also live animal presentations by Atlanta Reptile Connection and Bubba and Friends raptor rehabilitation center of Zebulon.

The volunteers who took part in the Fort Gillem MEPS project was less than half the number who participated last year, perhaps because recent events like the war in Iraq may have overshadowed the day.

"There is a war, and wars are counterproductive," Wyland said.

There were other factors as well, Duncan said.

"We had a date change. We usually do it on Friday. People turn out on a Friday," Duncan said.

Lucas also pointed out that their event was on Easter weekend. The preserve will also have a booth at Zoo Atlanta on Friday during the zoo's Earth Day celebration.

No Earth Day events were held at Babb Middle School in Forest Park because the students were too busy taking statewide standardized tests, office employee Cindy Mears said. The situation was probably the same at other schools in the county, all of which are taking the tests, Mears said.

"Of course we encourage our students to pick up," Mears said. "Our Earth is too beautiful to mess it up."