Recalling the First Earth Day 50 Years Ago

Author: Jessica | 04/10/20

Ann Linnea

Ann Linnea looks carefully at an evergreen huckleberry for signs of early flower buds on April 9, 2020 on South Whidbey Island. Photo by Christina Baldwin.

Ann Linnea doesn’t remember every detail about a historic event that took place on a college campus in Ames, Iowa, 50 years ago. But what she can’t forget is how it made her feel.

“I was a junior in college at Iowa State University and we had a huge celebration there for the first Earth Day,” Linnea recalled. “Dennis Hayes, one of the organizers, actually came and spoke.”

She remembers the “very upbeat energy” among the thousands of students who came to the lecture and attended a parade. That energy swept through the country as 20 million Americans participated in coast-to-coast rallies on April 22, 1970 to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

“It was just an amazing thing,” said Linnea, a Land Trust member who now lives in Freeland. “People didn’t dream there would be that level of participation. It was exactly the kind of attention needed that brought environmental concern into the political arena. Early on, we had the Clean Water Act, the Clear Air Act and the forming of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was fairly stunning the result of that first Earth Day.”

That first Earth Day literally changed Linnea’s world.

“It pretty much galvanized my attention and passion for earth care and earth activism,” she said. “It was a pivotal point in my choosing of careers.”

Linnea has spent the past 26 years on Whidbey Island, learning more about and appreciating nature while inspiring others to do so. She describes herself as a naturalist outdoor educator and is an author of five books focused on the environment, including “Keepers of the Trees: A Guide to Re-Greening North America” and “Teaching Kids to Love the Earth.” A former high school biology teacher, U.S. Forest Service naturalist and newspaper journalist, Linnea is now semi-retired. She and her partner Christina Baldwin spent 25 years teaching The Circle Way and now offer annual wilderness quest and writing workshops through their company, PeerSpirit.

“I think not a day passes that I don’t rise and look outside and be incredibly grateful for living on Whidbey Island. It truly is a stunning place to live.” — Ann Linnea

Linnea hopes that greater environmental awareness during Earth Day’s 50th anniversary this month won’t get lost at a time when the world’s focus has been on the COVID-19 pandemic. Planned Earth Day public events and group activities are canceled.

Linnea is consulting with South Whidbey Elementary School teachers on lesson plans that include activities children can do from home during the week of Earth Day. One assignment calls for students to observe nature daily in their own yards then write about it, craft a poem, or do an art project.

Linnea, herself, is thankful to be living on Whidbey Island during these unsettling times.

“I think not a day passes that I don’t rise and look outside and be incredibly grateful for living on Whidbey Island,” she said. “It truly is a stunning place to live.”

She shares the same admiration for Trillium Community Forest, a nature preserve near her home that she and many others helped permanently protect during a Land Trust fundraising campaign 10 years ago. She said walking the forest while observing social distancing has helped her greatly through this crisis.

“For me, walking in the woods is like breathing or eating — it’s part of who I am,” she said. “It helps me stay in touch with the natural world. I guess you could say it’s a spiritual practice for me.”

Share Your Inspiration

Help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this month by sharing how the abundance of nature on Whidbey and Camano islands affects you, comforts you, or brings you joy. Share a few sentences (brief is best). Or send us a photo with a short caption, a drawing, a video, or a poem. Share with us through email at We’ll be sharing what we’ve received in our next newsletter and on our website throughout spring to highlight the importance of local conservation and to celebrate Earth Day. Thank you!


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