Despite gray skies, Thornden Park was shrouded in green Sunday afternoon for an all-day celebration of Earth Day 2012. The late-day rain held off just long enough for five-hour celebration starting at noon.
A crowd of students from Syracuse University and SUNY ESF joined with members of the community for an afternoon of African drumming, hula hooping, eco-friendly speeches and live music at the park's amphitheater. Paul Otteson, the web coordinator for SUNY ESF, organized the event.
"I was at the first Earth Day in 1970 in Philadelphia," Otteson said. "And it changed my life. I wanted to bring something like that to Syracuse."
In addition to organizing the festival, Otteson played keys for the headlining band Earth Jam, a.k.a. Hollow Earth. The four-piece band -- comprised primarily of members of Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Hollow -- meandered through a series of popular Dead tunes early in the afternoon. The jams were followed by a speech about preserving the planet from Otteson.
The early crowd of 50 or 60 wandered between booths set up opposite the stage, hula hooped, danced and tossed frisbees. Many, ironically, also smoked cigarettes and drove SUVs to the event.
"In politics, we always prioritize the economy and fuel over the environment," Otteson said. "But it can't be an either/or thing. We've got to make the Earth our top priority."
Display booths varied from student organizations like "Students for Obama" to an OCCRA representative educating about recycling to an upstate farmer lobbying to legalize hemp. Also present were the co-sponsors of the event: Green Campus Initiative -- a SUNY ESF student organization -- and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Ted Traver, an organizer with NYPIRG, said planning for the event began back in March. "We figured Thornden Park would be perfect because it's in a great neighborhood and close to the schools," he said. "We just wanted to put on a fun community event that celebrates environmental progress."
"We've been working on sustainable projects and waste reduction around [ESF's] campus," said Tivona Renoni, a senior conservation biology student at ESF and president of the Green Campus Initiative. "We got them to paint all the outdoor recycling cans to make them stand out from the trash bins." The group was also selling reusable sporks and recycled notebooks, made with discarded printer paper and cereal boxes (and a few beer boxes) for covers.
The afternoon brought families and children out along with the array of students.
"Other than it being a little chilly," Otteson said, "I think the whole thing worked out great."