Roughly 250 elementary students marched down Queen Mary Highway on Tuesday, clapping their hands and chanting anti-littering slogans on their way to the 20th annual Earth Day EcoFair at the St. George Botanical Garden.
The EcoFair occurred as planned despite losing its main sponsor due to recent government budget cuts. Charmin Springer, environment educator for the V.I. Waste Management Authority, said she was devastated when she heard that the recent governmentwide 5 percent budget cut would preclude the authority from sponsoring the event as it has in previous years.
Springer said WMA was still committed to staying involved, however, and organized the Litter Stomp parade.
In the weeks leading up to the event, WMA representatives visited schools to push their anti-littering message, stressing the need to keep the territory’s roadways clear.
The program culminated with the march, with students from five schools gathering at the authority’s Williams Delight facility and parading down the road to the fair chanting, “Here we go again, the litter stomp again. Clap your hands and stomp your feet.”
Springer said the children had a great time and there were very few complaints.
“They did well for having to walk 1.5 miles in the heat,” she said with a laugh.
Once they reached the fair, the children were split up into groups and led through 23 different stations, each with an educator waiting with displays or games focused on local environmental issues.
Lynnea Roberts, education director for the St. Croix Environmental Association, which organized the event, said the annual fair was both a celebration of Earth Day and one of the hallmarks of SEA’s public outreach program.
“We get a lot of kids here,” she said of the two-day EcoFair. “It’s a lot of bang for our buck.”
Roberts said that after they learned WMA was pulling out as a sponsor, SEA scrambled to find other donors. Roberts said the fair’s theme this year was energy and that had helped with fundraising.
Seven energy companies stepped up to fund the fair, including the Water and Power Authority, Tibbar Energy, Solar Delivered, Seven Seas Water, Energy Systems Group, Quality Electric and Eco Innovations.
Roberts said she was relieved that the fair was saved, but wasn’t sure where they would find funding in the future.
“We can’t do energy every year,” she remarked.
The children were blissfully unaware of the wrangling that went into putting the event on, however, and they enjoyed their morning away from their classrooms.
The students learned about everything from water desalination to why you’re not supposed to pour cooking oil down the sink at a series of tables set up by WMA, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Seven Seas Water and the National Park Service.
On the lawn, the U.S. Forest Service and the St. Croix East End Marine Park were both organizing relay type games. In one, students had to search out new forms of energy. In the other, they pretended to be sea turtles in search of habitat.
Retired music teacher Jan Hart led children in an environmentally themed sing-a-long. At one point she challenged students to come up with their own eco-raps and she received a surprising number of volunteers.
The fair’s energy theme was on full display, with several presenters focusing on energy conservation.
Leila Muller of the Energy Office taught students about the deployment of solar and wind energy generators throughout the territory and what effect it might have on their lives.
“What do your parents say all the time?” she asked them and, as if on cue, one student immediately replied, “The WAPA bill is high!”
Muller coached the children on things they could do to lower their families’ energy usage, including shutting off lights and fans and not opening the refrigerator door in the summer to get cool, something several of the children mischievously admitted being guilty of.
Muller gave them a little incentive for being energy conscious, hinting that if their parents spent less on their WAPA bills, they’d have more money left over to buy the new shoes and games the kids wanted.
The fair continues Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.