by J. R. Zane, SCHS President
Earth Day observation nationally began in 1970 led by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and others. Schuylkill County did not ignore its significance, but the county’s observations were more on the low key side. In Frackville, April 19 to April 25 was proclaimed Earth Week by its mayor, Metro Karlitskie. In Shenandoah Attorney Leonard Schumack arranged a program for the local Rotary Club that week on water pollution control. The Shenandoah Evening Herald had a follow-up feature story on April 23rd on the stream pollution in the Mahanoy Creek.. The paper declared that the Creek was a “suffocation of sewage, mine acid, debris and garbage from the east end of Mahanoy City to the County line at Klingerstown.” Strong words from the editor’s desk. In Tamaqua, Councilman Anthony Sacco spoke out against junkyards within that borough’s limits.
Mostly it was in the local schools that Earth Day was recognized in one way or another. For instance fifth and sixth grades at the W.C. Estler Elementary School in Ashland had total participation in an environmental theme under the direction of Mrs. Edith Yarnell, a social studies teacher. At Marian High School an “Earth Day mass” was held with the green and white Earth Day flag carried in and placed next the American flag behind the altar. At Cardinal Brennan High School an environmental assembly was held with Marie Paulonis reading an excerpt from Kahil Gibran’s “Meditation On the Earth.” Yes the counterculture that began in the 1960’s was certainly evident in the creation of the environment movement. Some may still disparage Earth Day as a mere appendage of the hippie movement, but some great improvements have occurred since then. Three examples, for instance, are Locust Lake, Tuscarora State Park, and Sweet Arrow Lake Park.
I remember trying to drive behind the old green East Penn busses in Pottsville in the 1960s and being unable to see in front of my due to the thick and heavy exhaust fumes being emitted. I was confronted with a wall of smog blocking my visibility (and I am nearsighted to make it worse). It was not only those busses that emitted heavy fumes but many other cars and trucks. Walking over the bridges in Schuylkill Haven, the river below would have many distinct and hazardous colors floating on top. The river was devoid of any fish and no one dared to use it for recreational purposes. No one would dare want to put one’s feet in the water. Public dumping of rubbish and trash was tolerated on the outskirts of most municipalities and along the river banks. Now the River is coming back to life and being used for recreation.
The main thrust of Earth Day was to make everyone aware of one’s environment and to promote its protection. As it is written in the “The History of Schuylkill County, edited by Schalck and Henning, “The streams of this county are numerous…Some of them, like the Schuylkill, the Little Schuylkill, the Swatara and the Mahanoy, have wide beds and comparatively deep channels, thus being capable of carrying large bodies of water.” So Earth Day is a time to reflect and appreciate these waterbeds with the county.
The Schuylkill River was given its name by the Dutch explorers, as “kill” means “creek” and “schuylen” means “to hide or take shelter.” The Schuylkill River as you know (or should know) has its source in Schuylkill County. Many probably are unaware that in the woods near the village of Tuscarora, the Tuscarora Springs brings forth twenty gallons of water a minute. This is where the Schuylkill River begins, and it takes about seven days for each drop of water coming out of the Tuscarora Springs to reach Philadelphia. The Reading Eagle newspaper on 9/14/2008 had a feature story on the River; its reporter, Darrin Youker, stated that along the way east the pristine water from the Tuscarora Springs picks up acid drainage, treated wastewater, nitrogen runoff from farms and trash washed off of the streets and highways. It is important that we try and restore the river and all of our waterways to benefit future generations. Remember that Ben Franklin in his will thought of future generations as he bequeathed the sum of two thousand pounds sterling to be held in trust for making the Schuylkill River navigable.
This Earth Week I invite you to get outside and take in some fresh air (East Penn buses are not running anymore. Also visit the Schuylkill Headwaters Association Webpage and support that organization (along with the Schuylkill County Historical Society, of course.