Nature lovers and activists of all ages gathered over the weekend to celebrate Gila Earth Day and the eighth annual Continental Divide Trail Days. After the Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) organizers switched to remote and hybrid versions of the events in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sponsoring both the Gila Earth Day and the Continental Divide Trail, which the Trail Days organizes Coalition, were excited to be offering a comprehensive face-to-face program this year.
While the two events have traditionally taken place on separate weekends, this year the organizations joined forces for a joint celebration that drew a large, multi-generational crowd at Gough Park on Saturday. The organizations sponsored additional events throughout the county over the course of the weekend.
On Saturday, volunteers worked together to clean up trash in Santa Clara and Silver City, and children learned about earthworm locomotion as they dug into buckets of dirt in Gough Park. Visitors big and small put on a huge Deuter backpack and ran through the crowd to the gawking spectators. Day hikers took group hikes in Gila National Forest on Sunday, while a few hikers of the Continental Divide Trail headed north through Silver City, the first of 19 “gateway communities” along the trail.
Organizations like Heart of the Gila and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, who normally spend their time working in the wild areas they want to protect, set up booths in Gough Park. Several dozen organizations, local businesses and outdoor gear brands were also represented, and a few bouncy castles were set up in the park.
Botanist Patrice Mutchnick, founder and director of Heart of the Gila, described why she is committed to protecting the Gila National Forest and the free-flowing river that flows through it.
“We founded [Heart of the Gila] to continue the work of Ella [Jaz Kirk]Ella [Sala Myers] and Michael [Sebastian Mahl] protecting wild places,” Mutchnick said.
Kirk, Mutchnick’s daughter, was killed along with Myers and Mahl in a 2014 plane crash near Whiskey Creek Airport while they were conducting aerial photography of the Signal Peak Fire in the Gila National Forest. The trio of Aldo Leopold High School students were known for their work to preserve and protect the Gila River.
“I’m doing everything I can to protect wild places and encourage a love of those places in children – that’s what I do to honor them [my daughter]’ Mutchnick said.
Her ability to inspire curiosity and a love of nature was palpable on Saturday afternoon as children gathered around her and swarmed around several buckets of dirt to find worms squirming beneath the surface. While one kid was examining a snail, another showed Mutchnick a worm he had found.
Eight-year-old Theodore Cramm stopped digging to talk to the newspaper.
“I don’t know why we only have one day a year to celebrate Earth,” he said. “Why isn’t every day Earth Day?! Without the earth we would not exist now, and we are nearing the end of our existence, however badly we treat it.”
Cramm spoke of his love for the planet and how much nature had to offer “even before we developed any technology,” he said. As for his thoughts on how to take better care of the planet?
“We absolutely have to get rid of the garbage,” he said.
Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of GRIP, agreed.
As part of the weekend’s events, “we coordinated three sites for garbage collection,” she said. “We’ve teamed up with Leigh Jenkins from the Silver City Watershed Keepers, Heart of the Gila and the Santa Clara Action Committee [state Rep.] Luis Terrazas and the ‘Toss No Mas’ campaign.”
Heart of the Gila Education and Outreach Coordinator Elysha Montoya, who grew up in Bayard, has partnered with Santa Clara Trustee Olga Amador, who is also Chair of Santa Clara’s Action Committee, to plant a section of Cameron Creek clean that runs parallel to Fort Bayard Street in Santa Clara. Twenty people joined them on Saturday morning.
Montoya said she inherited her love of the outdoors from her mother, who ran an after-school gardening program in Bayard in the early 2000s. Montoya – who also partnered with Mutchnick to lead first graders at Jose Barrios Elementary School, including Montoya’s son, in gardening on Friday in honor of Earth Day – described how meaningful it was to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“It’s full circle,” she said.
Andrea Kurth, Continental Divide Trail Coalition Gateway Community program manager, said Saturday’s joint event attracted more people than any event individually in the past, and described her hope for community involvement in nurturing, protecting and promoting The Coalition Mission Complete the Continental Divide Trail.
“Local communities will truly be the best advocates for protecting the Continental Divide Trail and we want local people to be involved in its stewardship as well as getting out and enjoying the trail. We want to break out of the mentality that the trail is just for hikers,” she said, adding that the weekend provided “a really great opportunity for us to bring the hiker community together with the Silver City community and celebrate that CDT, and bring all of these amazing partners together to celebrate the outdoors and great things to do in Silver City.”
Gila Earth Day Coordinator and GRIP Program Coordinator Doyne Wrealli, who freshly retired at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, agreed.
“Cooperation [between Gila Earth Day and Trail Days] was great,” she said. “I think we have good cross-pollination. The CDT people tend to be younger, and we tend to be geeks. It was a really nice cross-fertilization.”
Marty Eberhardt, member of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Marcia Stout, co-leader, spoke about what they see as a distinctive feature of the environmental organizations working together this Saturday.
“Isn’t it a nice little town that there are so many organizations dedicated to conservation and related issues?” said Eberhardt.
Hannah Dumas can be reached at [email protected] lypress.com.