By Mary Louise Williams
To remember the first Earth Day in Los Alamos County, one must give credit where it is due – the Los Alamos High School students to Save Our Environment.
A group of very concerned students answered the call of a teacher and formed a group to determine how to plan for a first Earth Day. They were linking up with the efforts of the newly formed Citizens for Clean Air and Water, a group of citezens and lab scientists who had begun addressing the deadly air pollution from the Four Corners power plants.
The idea for the First Earth Day arose nationally in the midst of the Vietnam War as the nation’s awareness began to focus on the issues such as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire from oil slicks, oil spills off the California coast killing sea life and so many other issues raising public consciousness. Gaylord Nelson, Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and Pete McCloskey, a conservative Republic Congressman, joined hands to bring about the first national Earth Day. As the nation began to respond, so did the students.
Los Alamos High School students approached the administrators who readily gave permission to celebrate the first Earth Day. The students formed “teams” on particular topics to research and prepare talks. They asked the elementary and secondary teachers if they would like student ‘enviromental talks’ on Earth Day. Many responded positively. Others throughout the high school formed walking groups from White Rock as well as from within the town with parents joining in.
Pat Jahoda made sure books were made available in the high school lobby that dealt with so many of these issues. The day was climaxed with a talk by the late Don Liska and his wife Alice who had recently climbed the 24,600′ Mt. Noshaq of Afghanistan. They described the world from atop a mountain where the views were still pristine.
At the end of the day, the students decided to form traveling awareness teams that would perform for elementary as well as regional schools. Teams researched environmental issues and wrote songs, skits and speeches that focused on major environmental problems. With the support of the Los Alamos schools’ administrations, school vans allowed the teacher sponsor and these teams to travel as far north as Colorado and south to Hobbs performing for over 3,000 people in their nine years of existence.
From 1970 to 1979, Students to Save Our Environment started the first recycling center across the airport landing field in Los Alamos, later taken over by the county with the help of Hank Winburn. They supported clean-up days, worked any way possible to raise awareness. The county owes much to these former committed high school students.