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Urbana Park District hosts Earth Day event to engage more people with the environment

Signs displayed during Urbana Park District's Earth Day 2024 event.

URBANA – The Urbana Park District hosted an Earth Day celebration to help people engage with nature and learn more about the environment. 

The event included food trucks, live music, and a series of educational booths and activities for children and adults alike to enjoy. 

Afro D and the Global Soundwaves perform at the Earth Day event at Crystal Park on April 20, 2024. Mae Antar/IPM News

One booth was dedicated to a local school that is almost entirely held outdoors. Another booth displayed bird watching. The local LGBTQ+ organization Uniting Pride of Champaign County also had a booth.

“One of the similarities that we have with the park district as we both are really trying to foster a deep connection between people and the environment and kind of removing the walls that that we feel are put up between us and the outside world,” said Morgan Duerksen-Balk, director of education and lead preschool teacher at BlueStem Hall Nature School in Urbana.

BlueStem Hall Nature School has its preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students cover basic required curriculum but spend 75 to 90 percent of their time outdoors.

“Nature and the environment are really important to the Urbana Park District,” said Savannah Donovan, the environmental program manager for the Park District. “This is an opportunity to, you know, not just preach to the choir but to get a different set of people excited about nature in the environment.”

Children playing with bubbles at Crystal Lake Park for the Urbana Park District’s Earth Day event on April 20, 2024.

The park district has a Climate Action, Resilience, Education and Sustainability plan. Donovan says communication and education on climate action can happen in a myriad of ways – such as arts and music showcased at Saturday’s event. 

“We really try to engage people in a lot of different ways to transmit messages about the importance of climate action, and just, you know, environmentally responsible behavior and how to be sustainable and why that’s important,” said Donovan. 

But the public isn’t the only ones learning new things at this event. Kshitij Tewari is a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois is studying how accessible and inclusive green spaces are for queer people. He volunteered to help the Urbana Parks District with a survey to gauge how accessible and welcoming the event was for attendees. 

“It felt like a great opportunity to interact with people and understand how these events helped with their sense of belonging, and if they have any interaction with their gender or sexual identity,” said Tewari.  

While the data collected from the survey is solely for the Urbana Park District, Tewari says it may give him an insight into inclusivity in green spaces that will only increase his understanding of his subject matter.

“I asked him to help design a visitor survey to implement today specific for this event, asking people how they feel at this event, was this event accessible and welcoming to them? And what could we do differently to improve that?,” said Donovan. 

Picture of Mae Antar

Mae Antar

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