How It All Began

In 1969, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed the first nationwide Earth Day to help put environmental issues onto the national agenda. “It was a gamble,” he recalls, “but it worked.”

The inspiration to create Earth Day came after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries. Earth Day 1970 capitalized on this emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement of the late 1960’s, and forcing environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated both in Washington, D.C., and on college campuses throughout the country.  An estimated 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city dwellers and farmers, businesses and labor leaders. An estimated 20 million people participated in events calling for a healthy, sustainable environment. The first Earth Day helped the national push to create the United States Environmental Protection Agency and to pass the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, for his role as Earth Day founder. This day marks what many consider as the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Twenty-year Anniversary

As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.

Thanks to Earth Day Network for their contributions to this historical summary

Earth Day in St. Louis

In 1989, teacher and rain forest advocate Matt Diller led a small group that organized the first St. Louis Earth Day Festival. The popularity and success of local and national events in 1990 for the 20th Earth Day, prompted organizers to find ways to educate St. Louisans about Earth Day, every day. In 1994, the renovated EarthWays Home opened for this purpose, later becoming Missouri Botanical Garden‘s environmental education center.

In the meantime, the St. Louis Earth Day Festival continued to grow until St. Louis Earth Day (the organization) was incorporated as its own non-profit organization with 501(c)3 status in 2002. With independent status, the organization grew to include year-round programming, so that the mission of making Every Day earth day continues in new, innovative ways, like through our award-winning Recycling On the Go event-greening program.

This widely celebrated community event has grown in leaps and bounds since its conception over 26 years ago.  In addition to the Festival, now held on the Muny Theater grounds in Forest Park, stewardship projects and activities at cultural and educational institutions have all become part of the annual Earth Day celebration in Forest Park and beyond. An annual Earth Day Symposium, attended by government representatives, professionals, and interested citizens, brings fresh ideas to the area on the latest concepts in sustainable restoration and development.  Numerous events in communities and schools across the region makes observance of the Earth Day holiday accessible to all.

We’re proud of our home-grown history and honor it by keeping the community involved through our Community Planning Sessions and various planning committees. We hope you can join us this April in making the 26th annual St. Louis celebration as spectacular and inspirational as possible!


In honor of our 25th anniversary in 2014, St. Louis Earth Day is enhancing its timeline, reaching out to those who have contributed over time, to create a more holistic view of our creation story. This is a work in progress. Do you have a memory or milestone you would like to share? Send it to info@stlouisearthday.org with the subject line “Earth Day History”. Thank you to Karla Wilson, who volunteered to collect and organize stories and milestones from our 25 year history!

First Earth Day in St. Louis

10th Earth Day celebrated at the Arch

Earth Day Celebrated at Creve Coeur Park, becoming the first of a continuing annual event
Grateful Dead cover band Jake’s Leg performs at the Festival.
Matt Diller – Festival Organizer
Ray Hartmann – stage MC
Dennis Hayes comes to St. Louis to organize for Earth Day 1990.

Earth Day celebrated at Cricket Fields in Forest Park
National 20th Anniversary of Earth Day
Over 115,000 people in attendance
1st All Species Parade
1st [partially] solar powered Festival
Research on the Earthways Home begins as a year-round project of Earth Day St. Louis
Establishment of Earth Day St. Louis
Kate Fish  – Festival Director
Jean Ponzi – Festival Coordinator
Alex Bornstein, Nikki Bloomfield, and Dale Dufer – key volunteers

Earth Day celebrated in Tower Grove Park
Earthways Home established
Kate Fish – Festival Director
Elena Irwin – Festival Coordinator
Jean Ponzi – MC

Earth Day Festival moves to Steinberg Rink in Forest Park
1st time Joia leads the parade at the Earth Day Festival
1st Giant Puppet Pageant: “Saving the Earth from the Forces of Greed”
Paula Geiss brings speaker John Robbins to St. Louis
Kate Fish – Festival Director
Jerry Klamon – Festival Coordinator
Alex Bornstein –  Earthways Home manager

Jerry Klamon and Kay Kay Morgan- Festival co-directors.

Laura Neuman (now Neuman-Howe) joined the EarthWays team
First Aid Booth added to Festival by Paula Geiss.

Festival held at Kiener Plaza downtown.
Jean Ponzi coordinated “Earth Art Area” activities and the All-Species Parade

Earth Day Festival moves back to Tower Grove Park
Alliance for a Livable World Established and organized the Festival
Bike Valet was offered and run by BicycleWorks

Earth Day Festival held at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

1999 – 2002
David and Karla Wilson – co-directors of the Earth Day Festival

Earth Day Festival held at the Boat House in Forest Park
National 30th Anniversary of Earth Day
First Earth Day Symposium (under the leadership of David Wilson)
Dr. Peter Raven and Dr. Robert Archibald become Earth Day Advisory Board Co-Chairmen
Environmental Summit between Missouri Coalition for the Environment and RCGA was facilitated by David Wilson and co-organize by Pat Waterston and Mike Alesandrini. Hunter Lovins is keynote speaker.
1st Earth Day Around Town
1st Earth Day in Forest Park stewardship projects: Ron Coleman with Open Space Council organized Forest Park clean up.

Earth Day Festival moves to World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park
Festival Theme: “Our Water, Our Rivers
St. Louis Earth Day established: Louise Bradshaw voted Board President
1st St. Louis Earth Day Symposium “Our Water, Our Rivers: St. Louis as a 21st Century River City“, held at Missouri Botanical Garden
1st Mississippi River Barge Trip
1st St. Louis Earth Day Teachers’ Guide created

Festival Theme: “Connecting Our Communities”
St. Louis Earth Day officially becomes a 501c3 non-profit organization
Symposium held at Missouri History Museum
Karla Wilson, hired as part-time Executive Director, 2002 – 2005
LaDoris Payne with Imani Family Center brings future Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai to St. Louis to celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day Festival moves to the Muny in Forest Park
Festival theme: “Passport to a Healthy Planet
Pam Schulte – Event Coordinator
All Species Parade held at the Saint Louis Zoo as part of Earth Day in Forest Park.
1st Festival Peach Garden co-organized by Claire Laune, Rebecca Weidekker, and Paula Geiss.
Symposium “Clean Water: Livable Cities-Models that Work

Festival theme: “Explore the Earth’s Treasures”
Cheryl Hutchings – Festival Coordinator
Patrick Osborne Board President
Symposium “Dialogue for Development: Investing in Sustainable Communities” in partnership with USGBC at Missouri Botanical Garden
USGBC-St. Louis brings developer John Knott to St. Louis as Symposium Keynote Speaker.
1st model for event-based recycling used at Festival. Guidelines added for exhibitors to encourage “zero waste”, cardboard recycling for vendors, and electronics and used shoes recycling for the public at Forest Park Community College.

Festival theme: “Celebrate, Educate, Cultivate”
1st composting stations included at the Festival
BBB awards St. Louis Earth Day first A+ accreditation
6th Annual Symposium “A Confluence of Interests: Water Resources and Economic Vitality in the St. Louis Region”

St. Louis Earth Day hires it first full-time Executive Director, Terri F. Reilly
Recycling On the Go pilot begins

1st full implementation of Recycling On the Go program
Robert Kennedy Jr. is Symposium Keynote Speaker.

Teamed up with TalentPlus to provide entertainment on 3 stages at Festival
2009 Festival Archives

Festival theme “40 Years Later: Living Earth Day Every Day”
Cassandra P. Hage becomes Executive Director
40th National Anniversary of Earth Day
1st Earth Day Challenge offered to Festival Attendees
2010 Festival Archives

Festival theme “Be the Change”
Recycling Extravaganza added to Earth Day Festival in Forest Park
Launch of Green Dining Alliance (December)
2011 Festival Archives

Festival Theme “Heroes for the Planet: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Actions”
Chipotle Cinema
Ban of High Fructose Corn Syrup and fried foods
Exclusive use of compostable or recyclable service wares by all food vendors
City of St. Louis Sustainability Showcase
Pedal for the Planet 6 mile bike ride
1st Recycling Extravaganza (REX!) collection event
2012 Festival Archives

Festival theme “Common Place”
Earth Day Action Grants established–18 projects awarded a total of $12,000
1st Earth Day Eve Celebration
2013 Festival Archives

Festival theme “25th Anniversary of Earth Day in St. Louis”
Founders Day event in January
2014 Festival Archives

Festival theme “Earth Day, Every Day…for Everyone!”
Estimated 50,000 in attendance
Laura Allers-Lowry  plans Festival
Nature’s Variety sponsored the first Pet Adoption Area
Upper Limits brought a climbing wall
Cassandra Hage resigns as Executive Director in October to become Sustainability Manager at Washington University.
2015 Festival Archives

Festival theme “Think Global, Act STL”
Estimated 62,000 in attendance
Laura Allers-Lowry as Events Manager plans Festival
Jen Myerscough is Executive Director
SLED bumper stickers offered at entry points for donations to SLED
Added new Experience area called Social Sustainability
Recycling Extravaganza (REX) held on separate date from Festival
1st Taste of Green fundraiser event held at Willow event space