The church put nature front and center during its first-ever ecological showcase.
CJ and Katzy Nager just wanted a nice place to take a walk away from their regular neighborhood routine. When they showed up at Longboat Island Chapel for the Earth Day Walks and Talks event on April 22, they got more than they expected.
Yes, they had a place to walk in the shade of the chapel’s garden and along the bay, but they also had the opportunity to visit with organizations at educational tables set up around the garden.
“It’s the first Earth Day event we’ve seen, but it’s such a good idea,” CJ said.
Attendees came and went throughout the day as they explored the spaces. Presenters set up tables in the Friendship Garden, behind the church and in front of the entrance to the church, and there were talks given by presenters every 30 minutes in the gazebo. Speakers throughout the garden ensured no one missed out on a talk if they were taking time to explore the plants labeled by the Manatee River Garden Club. At one point during the day, a volunteer counted more than 100 cars in the chapel’s parking lot.
“It doesn’t seem crowded because everyone is spread out,” chapel volunteer Lesley Rife said. “I think it’s been a huge success. Some people didn’t even know we had a garden.”
Volunteers passed out flyers around town and called friend to spread the word. Jack and Jan Trift, a local couple, were sitting at a table on Anna Maria Island when they were approached by a woman with a flyer for the event. They came by and wound up staying for the presentations and a bay walk.
“I took a half day off work for this,” Jan Trift said. “We’re also looking for places to volunteer when we retire.”
Lark Rippy, 11, who came with 9-year-old sister Bliss and family friend Irina LaRose, said she tries to celebrate Earth Day every day by saying no to straws, plastic cups and bags and by cutting up old shirts into strips that she weaves into washcloths. The girls made their way around each station and by the end, Lark Rippy had a thick stack of pamphlets she’d collected throughout the day.
“I enjoyed that lots of organizations work to educate people so they can support them and make a difference,” Lark Rippy said. “I learned about organizations I knew a little about but wanted to learn more.”
The participating organizations were Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, whose education specialist Ross Johnston held guided bay walks that were a hit throughout the day, as well as Save Our Seabirds, Longboat Key Turtle Watch, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. The latter two were the keynote speakers and held longer talks indoors.
Fun facts about local organisms and ways to keep the local environment healthy and beautiful floated from table to table. There was almost too much to see, and several attendees wound up staying longer than they planned, and one woman brought a sandwich because she knew she’d want to stay throughout the afternoon. Those who came left brimming with more knowledge than they’d expected.
“We accepted donations and taught about Save Our Seabirds,” volunteer Heather Sellers said. “A lot of people didn’t know they have resident birds there.”
Originally, the chapel had discussed holding the event in honor of Arbor Day, but moved it to Earth Day. Chapel member Ingrid McClellan was one of the masterminds behind the event, along with Joan Partridge.
McClellan said they’re looking at making Earth Day Walks and Talks an annual event.
“I think we did good for the earth today,” McClellan said.