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Earth Day hits the big 5-0

In the late 1960s, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire for the 10th time, and that time it made the national news.

The Union Oil Platform off the coast of Santa Barbara blew out — killing 10,000 dolphins, birds, seals and sea lions. NASA took a photo of the Earth from the moon, giving the world a look at itself in a new light.

In January of 1970, the Climate Protection Act was signed into law. The University of California created the first Environmental Studies program. Politicians, activists, lawyers and Americans of all stripes began to consider how to bring mass public awareness to the environment.

It was Julien Koenig — the copywriter responsible for Volkswagen’s “think small” campaign — who coined the date and the name for “Earth Day,” because April 22 was his birthday and Earth Day rhymes with birthday.

On that first Earth Day in 1970 an estimated 20 million people took part — including President Richard Nixon, who planted a tree on the White House south lawn.

In its 50th year, Earth Day comes on the heels of a 20,000-gallon oil fire here in Medford, some of which spilled into Bear Creek. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality have pronounced the creek and nearby waterways mostly clear of oil, but litter and invasive plants remain.

SOLVE — an environmental nonprofit based in Portland — is organizing an Earth Day clean up along the Bear Creek Greenway.

Together with the Medford Co-op, SOLVE invites volunteers to gather at 9 a.m., Saturday at Alba Drive to help keep Bear Creek clean. Similar events are being held in Talent (8:30 a.m. check-in at Lynn Newbry Park) and Phoenix (8:30 a.m. check-in at Blue Heron Park).

The SOLVE website advises participants to come prepared with loose comfortable clothes and closed-toe shoes — there will be blackberry trimming. Registration also can be found at bearcreekstewards.org.

Earth Day events are speckled across the Rogue Valley throughout the coming weekend. At 6 p.m. Saturday, the Seattle-based music group YAIMA will play at Jackson Wellsprings. The concert will open with a tea ceremony.

On Sunday, from 12-3 p.m. the Ashland Food Co-op will close its parking lot to all cars and invite attendees to play with giant bubbles, chalk and explore eco-friendly seed kits. Parking for shoppers will be temporarily moved to the Umpqua Bank parking lot. Baby goats from The Crest at Willow Witt, Southern Oregon Food Solutions, Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, KS Wild and Rogue Riverkeeper, Recology, Southern Oregon Pachamama Alliance, and others are scheduled to attend, according to the Ashland Co-op website.

Sunday, from 1-4PM Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland will host its first Earth Day event, featuring electric cars and e-bikes ready for test drives. The first 20 to take a car out for a spin will get $25 gift card for the Ashland Food Co-op.

Live music by The Barmisfits Duo, Siskiyou Celt and Beyond will be be held in the parking lot of Temple Emek Shalom.

La Clinica and the Ashland Emergency Food Bank will join the cause — attendees are encouraged to bring a bag of nonperishable food to donate to the food bank. The event will also feature bicycle maintenance tutorials, and kids can plant seeds and learn to make their own compost.

On Friday, Southern Oregon University will host what it calls an extravaganza at the Farm. Jill Smedstad, equity coordinator for Sustainability at SOU, said this will be the first time SOU’s decades-old event has taken place at its community agriculture farm.

From 3:30-6 p.m., the Farm of SOU, at 155 Walker Ave., in Ashland, will play host to lawn games, crafts, workshops, prizes, a pollinator art walk and tours of the Farm. Food carts from Caba Empanadas and Sultan’s Delight will be there. Five musical acts will perform on the Farm’s Thalden Pavilion stage, including the SOU Salsa Band and Creekside Strings.

The SOU Farm’s partner and neighbor, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, will mark the event with free admission and extended hours. Its doors will be open until 6:30 p.m.

All Earth Day event organizers urge their guests to walk, bike, take public transit or carpool to celebrate the half-century anniversary of the first national holiday dedicated to the blue planet.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.