Giorgina Reid fights erosion on the Lighthouse bluffs, from the Al Holden collection.
Today is Earth Day, its 51st birthday. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson kick-started the event on April 22, 1970, after observing the sickening results of a California oil spill the year before. “Twenty million Americans were inspired by Earth Day— at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States — to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts” (earthday.org/history). April 22, 1970 also signals the starting point for two environmental undertakings that profoundly affected Montauk.
The Concerned Citizens of Montauk initially banded together to protect Big Reed Pond from developers intent on encircling its perimeter with 1,400 houses. CCOM’s efforts resulted in the creation of Montauk County Park (the former Theodore Roosevelt County Park). Over the last 50 years this impactful environmental group has played a major role in preserving land in Montauk. In fact, more than 70 % of Montauk’s protected land can be traced back to CCOM’s dedication to environmental principles (www.preservemontauk.org).
Earth Day 1970 also brought the indomitable Giorgina Reid to Montauk, who believed she could save the doomed Montauk Lighthouse from its eroding bluffs through a method she had learned called reed-trench terracing. It involved a system of wooden planks made of cedar climbing up toward the Lighthouse in rows. Behind the planks were simple holes filled with reeds whose growing roots would dig into the soil and drink the rain, preventing disastrous gullies that caused erosion. When she finished in 1985, Reid’s project was deemed successful. Since then, however, fierce Nor’easters have shown that erosion at the Lighthouse is an ongoing battle. Committed organizations and individuals have plans to keep the tower upright into the future.
One of the hallmarks of the first Earth Day was the alignment of purpose shared with Senator Nelson by both Republicans and Democrats. Schools, civic organizations, and finally, the government, got behind the philosophy of Earth Day to enact laws that would create a healthier planet, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Earth Day is now an international movement, spurred on by the actions of local, every-day people who have proven that better behaviors and environmental practices do make a difference. Happy Earth Day, everyone!