When Earth Day burst onto the national scene 40 years ago, the idea was to put the environment front and center in the national dialogue. The brainchild of U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, it quickly blossomed into a widespread grassroots effort.Four decades later, the number of observances continues to grow.
Michigan’s largest, the MI Earth Day Festival, is hoping to draw 100,000 people to downtown Rochester Friday, April 23 to Sunday, April 25.
In Orion Township, a new Growing Green Earth Day Expo will be on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, at Canterbury Village. And while organizers say there’s plenty of room for both events, there’s a bit of tension behind the scenes.
John Batdorf, former executive director of the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, started the Rochester festival during his time at UHEAC. This year, Batdorf’s new business, Tri-Green Enterprises, is running the event after Upland Hills declined to participate.
“We really started the company to do this event,” Batdorf said. “We see this as one of many events that are out there … We think every town is going to have an Earth Day event.”
The Oakland Press is a sponsor of the MI Earth Day Festival. Troy Farwell, UHEAC’s current executive director, said his organization’s focus is on education. The large festival “took all our resources,” he said.
“That’s a full-time job. John does a hell of a good job at it,” Farwell said.
UHEAC had no intention of getting involved in another festival, Farwell said.
“But immediately, with our 30 years of expertise, we had people coming to us,” Farwell said.
The partnership with Orion Township, which will present an indoor business expo, focuses more on local businesses, he said. Booth prices are lower, so smaller businesses can afford to participate.
“We really wanted to do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Farwell said. “God knows we need enough help in this state for our economy. … We have some great things going on.”
The strategy appears to have paid off.
“Things have really picked up,” said Jennifer Vezina, recreation program supervisor for Orion Township. Fifty to 60 businesses have signed on; nonprofit organizations got a lower booth price and will be well represented. The Orion Art Center will provide an art activity and UHEAC will provide a speaker series covering everything from native plants to diet to energy consumption.
“We actually screened every participant,” Farwell said. “We think the quality of people there will be different.” He said he’ll be happy with a smaller but “more dedicated” crowd.
Farwell said the new event will make money, creating a nest egg to keep it going next year. But Batdorf said his push for growth is all about sustaining a successful event.
“It’s kind of a matter of being big enough to be attention-getting for the media,” he said. “It’s kind of taking on a life of its own.”
The Rochester festival will expand this year in time and space. It will kick off Thursday night with a $25 preview party featuring comedian Dave Coulier, awards, an eco-chic fashion show and music.
On Friday, a new career fair joins the full day of exhibits by 200 exhibitors. Saturday includes a parade, Sunday a trail run.
Friday and Saturday night feature a $10 Party for the Planet.
Though blessed with extraordinary weather last year, the outdoor event will offer more covered spaces this year, including walkways.
“We started out more as a trade show,” Batdorf said. “This year, particularly with our partnership with the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, it’s more of a community event.”
If you go
The MI Earth Day Festival is from April 23 to 25 at Third and Water streets in downtown Rochester. Visit www.miearthday.com for more information.
The Growing Green Earth Day Expo is from 1 to 7 p.m. April 22 at Canterbury Village, 2325 Joslyn, Orion Township. For more information call 248-391-0304, ext. 143
Source: The Oakland Press