Group works to impart Earth Day lessons every day

MGN Online
MGN Online

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) – No, Kerri Fearn repeatedly told classmates, she would not step foot in a kayak.

The Sparkman High student planned on contentedly waiting on the shore. That is until the 10-member group arrived at the bank of the creek.

Silently, from the outskirts of the circle, Fearn watched her peers gear up with life jackets, kayaks and oars. As she prepared to shove off from the Highway 67 boat ramp and explore the heart of the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Jay Grantland asked once more.

“How deep is it exactly?” asked Fearn, who did not know how to swim.

With sunglasses shading his eyes and Blackjack the dog perched on the edge of the kayak, Grantland smiled, steering the boat. At the helm sat Fearn.

“We usually convince them,” Grantland said. “Not many kids can pass up a chance like these. These are adventures they would never have unless they just got out here and explored. There’s a whole other world out here and they don’t want to miss it.”

Tuesday, for the 44th year, more than a billion people in 192 countries celebrated Earth Day. Originated in 1970, Earth Day brings awareness to air and water pollution, endangered species, recycling, community gardens and building “green.”

For Grantland, owner of Alabama Eco Adventures and project manager of Hartselle’s Waterworks Center for Environmental Education, the celebration occurs daily.

A son of a commercial fisherman, Grantland grew up in nature. Every Friday, he would hunt worms for the 1,000 trot lines he would set out on Saturday mornings. After a day angling for catfish and crappie, he would pull the lines and rig them from Sunday morning.

“Fishing expeditions are my least favorite thing to do. I blame my dad for that. But I also thank him. He is the one who taught me to love nature,” Grantland said.

He now works to pass on that lesson to students during an age where, for many, computers and video games take precedence over hiking, canoeing and sleeping beneath the stars. As manager of the Waterworks Center, Grantland leads students along waterways snaking through the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, regaling them with stories of alligators, whooping cranes, mating pairs of bald eagles, north Alabama caves and the Native-American mounds visible on the shorelines.

The future of the habitat, Grantland tells the teenagers, depends on them.

“We have done all we can,” Sparkman High environmental science teacher Anita Bailey agreed. “Y’all are the ones who must carry it forward. You are the ones who must take the message to your friends and family.”

A nonprofit environmental education organization, the Waterworks Center provides students and teachers with hands-on interactions with nature. The center features solar energy production, a sewage wasteland, rainwater retention basin, compost system, fish, salamanders and snapping turtles.

“I hope the students leave knowing about water quality and how they play a role in the problems and how they can help fix them,” Grantland said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily

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