Walla Walla will mark Earth Day in a big way

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For the first time in 20 years, Walla Walla will celebrate Earth Day on a large scale. The City of Walla Walla and Blue Mountain Action Council will host a free, family-friendly event from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market venue behind City Hall. Live music, green giveaways and information on sustainable practices will highlight the event's theme: "A healthy planet begins with a healthy community."

Walla Walla Sustainability Coordinator Melissa Warner helped spearhead the event, which will address many local issues.

"We need to let people know about the resources that are available in our community," she said. "And we're trying to incorporate all aspects of sustainability, which include the social, economic, as well as the environmental."

Approximately 30 exhibits from non-profit organizations, businesses and local agencies will showcase the resources available to community members. The information-driven event will feature workshops with local speakers covering the topics of green building, solar photovoltaic installations, sustainable dairy farming, native plants, home energy audits and home weatherization projects.

Coordinators emphasize that the Earth Day event is first and foremost an opportunity to provide residents with knowledge.

"It's 100 percent education-based," said Glenna Awbrey, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with Blue Mountain Action Council and one of the principle planners of the event. "Everything that is happening is free of charge, and there's no selling or vendors allowed. It's really for people to come and take information and things they can use."

Hands-on activities include bicycle check-ups and planting of trees and native plants to take home. For kids, there will be bike helmet giveaways and fittings, as well as a children's story time at 12:30 p.m. featuring a reading of Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax."

Attendees can get free compact fluorescent lightbulbs, reusable shopping bags and low-flow shower heads while supplies last.

At 1:30 p.m. on the Crawford Stage, winners of the local Green Commute competition will be announced and prizes will be presented. The competition challenges businesses and organizations to have the highest percentage of members or employees walk, bike, carpool or take public transit on Earth Day today.

To encourage people to get to the event in an environmentally friendly way, Valley Transit will begin its Saturday schedule at 10 a.m. rather than noon, and a bike corral will be available for bicyclists to use.

Recycling stations will be set up for residents to bring in computers (no peripherals such as keyboards, mouse, speakers or printers), monitors, TVs, laptops, compact fluorescent lights, ink cartridges, cell phones, household batteries and plastic grocery bags. A drive-up service for the recycling stations will be on the Rose Street side of the venue between Third and Fourth Avenue. The coordinators are excited to use the event to make available the wealth of resources in the Walla Walla area.

"We face some challenges that are part of our community dynamic as a whole," Awbrey said. "We want to provide outreach to the (entire) community -- people with very diverse economic and social backgrounds and to those who speak different languages."

Warner views the event as a starting point in working towards a sustainable future for Walla Walla. "This is more of a launch event than a conclusive event for Earth Month," she said. "We're showcasing all these opportunities to get involved in the community on a year-round basis."

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