All around the outside of the 50-gallon rain barrel, the students of Clark Elementary School painted their vision of eco-friendly responsibility.

Earthworms crawled through the rich brown dirt, where healthy carrots and radishes grew. Fish swam through the crisp, clean water. Flowers grew from the ground, and butterflies and bees flitted around them spreading pollen.

Above the whole scene, a rainbow arced through an unpolluted sky.

“The students are pretty cognizant about wanting to help the environment. Kids nowadays think about those things a lot more, and that’s an area in our society we’ve made improvement in,” said Debbie Pickett, art teacher at Clark Elementary School.

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The rain barrel project is just part of a new initiative to recognize Earth Day. A county-wide effort is underway to celebrate the environment and learn more about protecting it during the inaugural Earth Day Festival on April 22.

People can come to Franklin’s Province Park to traverse the story walk through the urban forest, take part in natural art projects and learn about the importance of bees to the environment.

They can help clean up local creeks and receive a tree sapling to plant in their yards. Elementary schools such as Clark have been working on rain barrels to display during the festival.

“We want to get people to care more about being good stewards of the earth, hopefully,” said Alley Muir, education and outreach coordinator for the Johnson County Recycling District. “It’s really just to have a fun family event that everyone can join in on, and make sure everyone knows how to help the environment in everyday life.”

The festival is a collaboration between a number of different agencies within Johnson County, including Purdue Extension, Franklin Parks & Recreation, Johnson County Partnership for Water Quality, and the county’s recycling district, library and soil and water conservation district. The group calls itself the Planet Partners.

In the past, local groups had conducted Earth Day celebrations that consisted of wide-scale recycling efforts and arborist demonstrations. But this year, the various county agencies decided to band together for a more comprehensive event, Muir said.

“We wanted to get more community partners involved. Instead of doing something with just the recycling district, we’re working with these different groups to get a bigger crowd out,” she said.

Eco Logic, an ecological restoration company, will have a native plant sale, while the Purdue Extension master gardeners will host a discussion about bees. Experts will be on site to talk about local animals.

“For the kids, it’s about getting them excited in the environment and learning about animals and plants and water and soil. Maybe it’ll spark some inspiration, where they have a little more interest in the environment and have some awareness about how to protect it,” said Sarah Hanson, educator for Purdue Extension. “For the parents, it will be more about education.”

The rain barrel display was presented to county elementary schools as a way to connect children with the environment. Rain barrels collect water that can be used in gardening and other yard work, as a way of conserving water.

Pickett felt that it would be a positive project for her students.

“A lot of them didn’t know what a rain barrel was for, so we tied this into our reading garden here at Clark. They knew that plants and things in the garden needed to be watered, and we talked about how everyone can do something to help,” she said.

Starting in March, they went to work decorating the massive blue barrel. The barrel is broken up into four distinct sections: underground, water, land and air.

Pickett envisioned letting each student put their own personal touch in the decorating, using their fingerprints to make the fish, butterflies and rainbows on the barrel.

“Instead of signing their names, that would be their signature, so they could do a number of different things there,” Pickett said.

The festival also serves to connect residents with the different agencies in the county dealing with the environment, such as the soil and water conservation district and Partnership for Water Quality, Muir said.

Each group will distribute information about what they do. Representatives will help people recycle different items or manage storm water issues.

Organizers hope that while people take away a wealth of knowledge about ways to be more environmentally friendly, they also learn more about the efforts to protect the air, water and land in Johnson County as well, Hanson said.

“People think of Purdue Extension and they think of agriculture, but my job deals with natural resources as well. This is a perfect way to educate others and reach a part of the community we might not reach otherwise, because they don’t know what Purdue Extension is,” she said.

If you go

Earth Day Festival

What: A celebration of ecological responsibility and the environment uniting agencies from all over the county.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22

Where: Province Park, Franklin

Who: The festival is organized by the Planet Partners, a collaboration of the Johnson County Recycling District, Johnson County Partnership for Water Quality, Franklin Parks & Recreation, Johnson County Soil & Water Conservation District, Johnson County Parks & Recreation, Johnson County Purdue Extension and the Johnson County Library.

Activities:

  • A display of handpainted rain barrels done by local elementary school students.
  • Trips through the story walk in Franklin’s urban forest
  • Natural art projects
  • Creek water monitoring
  • Educational discussions about Indiana animals and bees
  • Native plants for sale from Eco Logic
  • Tree seedling giveaway

Information: recyclejohnsoncounty.org/earth-day-festival

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.