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Earth Day Helps Drive the Environmental Movement from the Bottom Up

11/6/17 by RootsRated

In 1969, a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, made one man think it was finally time to take action. It inspired Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, to bring more attention to the environmental issues of the day. The idea was to have a “national teach-in on the environment,” but what exactly that meant came from local organizers. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day attracted more than 20 million Americans across the country. Some of the biggest were in New York City, where the mayor closed Fifth Avenue and made Central Park available for the rally. In Philadelphia, more than 50,000 people descended on Fairmount Park. But perhaps most importantly, Earth Day established itself as means of giving voice to the popular support for environment issues across the country.

Gold Butte, Nevada
Gold Butte, Nevada John Fowler

That first Earth Day was quickly followed by the passage of several important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. The movement also focused on preserving natural outdoor resources, and it found success in the 1970s with the National Scenic Trails Act and the establishment of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in Wisconsin .

By 1990, the environmental movement had grown large enough that the event was taken global, and more than 200 million people in 141 countries celebrated the first international event that year. Earth Day has continued to grow, such that on April 22 of this year, event organizers expect 1 billion people to participate, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

Earth Day continues to serve as an umbrella organization for a wide variety of environmental causes, and its bottom-up approach has brought attention to countless nonprofits.

In the United States, one of the strongest movements involves protecting natural spaces from development and restoring properties to once again be accessible to outdoor recreation. The Conservation Alliance, founded in 1989, was created “to protect and restore America’s wild places.” The alliance was formed by leaders in the outdoor industry, and it now includes more than 190 member companies.

“It’s an opportunity for us as an outdoor company to give something back,” says Dan Petersen of Marmot, which is a member of the organization. “The Conservation Alliance has done an amazing job in preserving land for recreation and restoration.”

Packraft on the Anaktuvuk River, North Slope, Alaska.
Packraft on the Anaktuvuk River, North Slope, Alaska. Paxson Woelber

The numbers are impressive: Since its founding, the Conservation Alliance has helped protect 45 million acres and 2,972 river miles. It has removed or halted 28 dams, purchased 11 climbing areas, and designated five marine reserves.”

“It takes the long-term approach to preservation,” Petersen says. “They do what they can each year, but then over 10 to 15 years, they’re really able to develop some impressive properties.”

Since its founding, the Conservation Alliance has contributed more than $15 million dollars to grassroots conservation groups in North America. In 2016, the organization awarded $790,000 in grants to 20 different organizations involved in protecting natural places. Some of the highlights include:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Campaign : Organizers are working to get 1.5 million acres of the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain designated a Coastal Plain National Monument.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council : The organization will create 15 miles of free-flowing rivers by removing three obsolete dams in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Kalmiopsis Wild Rivers Campaign : More than 100,000 acres of public land and 107 miles of wild river in southwest Oregon will be protected from future mining threats.

Brooks Range Conservation Campaign : The organization will work to protect the nearly 30 million acres of wild lands from the Brooks Range in Alaska to the Yukon watershed.

Gold Butte National Monument Campaign : The Friends of Nevada Wilderness is working to create the 350,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument, which will protect the region’s archaeological treasures and outstanding backcountry recreational opportunities.

Smoke above Clear Creek, Siskiyou Wilderness Area, California.
Smoke above Clear Creek, Siskiyou Wilderness Area, California. Steven Bratman

“You’ll find lots of big projects, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but you’ll also find smaller pieces of land that can make a big difference,” Petersen says. “It may only take two acres to offer people access to a larger piece of land. Or it could be a small area for climbing that people want preserved.”

Many Marmot employees will celebrate Earth Day by volunteering on a Save the Bay project in the San Francisco area, and on April 22, the company will be donating 10 percent of all sales at and at its retails stores to the Conservation Alliance.

Looking for a volunteer opportunity on Earth Day? has a wide range of options where you can find an event near you or where you can register your own event with Earth Day organizers. If you know of an organization that could use help from the Conservation Alliance, you can find out how to apply at

Whatever your environmental concern, make your voice heard on April 22—and work for a solution that will preserve the natural wonders for generations to come.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.