April 21, 2010

Earth Day at 40: Mainers remember birth of a movement

The first celebration was an understated affair with the few observances held mostly on campuses.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Marion Fuller Brown

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Joan Saxe, a longtime volunteer with Sierra Club at the state and national levels, was picking up roadside trash on the first Earth Day.

A Maine native she was living in North Carolina at the time and decided to head out and pick up trash with her son, David, a toddler.

"I just didn't have the time to be in any organized event so I just did it on my own and tried to raise awareness with him.

She said it must of worked because her son went on to work with Outward Bound.

In 1970 Charles Gould, 87, of Freeport was a University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service agent who was getting a lot of requests from people about organic farming.

"There were more and more of what we used to call hippies coming into the state that were following Scott Nearing," said Gould.

"I didn't believe much in it but they were very sincere about wanting to do things in a different way , so I did what I could to assist them," he said.

That involved helping to get like-minded farmers together and publishing the first newsletters of what would turn into the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in 1971.

Gould said he doesn't remember the first Earth Day.

"I had nothing to do with Earth Day at all, or ever," he said.

Brownie Carson, who has been executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine for nearly 26 years, was a student at Bowdoin on the first Earth Day, but he doesn't remember any celebration.

"It was my first semester back at college after having been in Vietnam, and I was more engaged in the anti-war movement," said Carson.

He said his Vietnam experience encouraged him to question authority and reassess his life, which led to his interest in social justice issues, a law degree, work with Pine Tree Legal Assistance and, eventually, his position with the Natural Resources Council.

In 1970, Carson said, he was very aware of the stench from the Androscoggin River.

"It really was a filthy open sewer. You could smell it all over Brunswick on warm days," he said.

Today, the river supports runs of migrating fish, including the endangered sturgeon, and is a popular recreational resource, with a new state park planned on its banks above Lewiston.

The Clean Water Act played a key role in bringing about the recovery of the Androscoggin, a river that carried pollution past Muskie's home in Rumford at a time when he was crafting the legislation that epitomizes the spirit of Earth Day.


Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:



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Brownie Carson

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Joan Saxe

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Richard Barringer

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Clinton Townsend


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