Supporters of creek celebrate Earth Day

dhinshaw@thestate.com April 22, 2013 

  • Want to get involved? Richland County’s active environmental community includes these prominent groups:

    Congaree Riverkeeper – Working for clean water and healthy rivers. (803) 760-3357. congareeriverkeeper.org

    Gills Creek Watershed Association – Dedicated to restoring and protecting the Gills Creek Watershed. (803) 727-8326. gillscreekwatershed.org

    Keep the Midlands Beautiful – Working to prevent litter and to promote recycling and beautification. (803) 733-1139. keepthemidlandsbeautiful.org

    Sustainable Midlands – Advocating, educating and celebrating solutions that balance the needs of the community, the environment and the economy. (803) 381-8747. sustainablemidlands.org

    Dawn Hinshaw

— About 25 people – and three dogs – showed up for an Earth Day event organized to bring attention to efforts to clean up Columbia’s Rocky Branch creek.

The “Rocky Branch on the Rocks” happy hour, sponsored by Sustainable Midlands, was held in the beer garden at Jake’s in Five Points on an unseasonably cool evening.

While good-naturedly joining in a trivia contest, people sampled healthy appetizers like quinoa patties and sweet-potato fries. An outdoor TV was muted and tuned to a sports channel.

Earth Day was organized as an “environmental teach-in” in 1970, a theme befitting Monday’s gathering.

Larry Markham brought a notebook of information he’s learned about the creek, which runs from Five Points through the University of South Carolina to the Congaree River.

Markham, “a little bit of a nonconformist” who has been attending USC on a discounted senior-citizen plan, is taking a course this spring on watersheds.

“I’ve dug out a lot of photographs and facts,” he said. “As we build knowledge on this stuff, maybe we make it a better place to live.”

At a nearby table, Michael and Jan Peterson waxed eloquent on Earth Day.

“We farm and garden, so we’re interested in the environmental community,” said Jan Peterson, who teaches middle school.

“When you think back to when Earth Day started, we had all these great hopes of what would happen. Then things kind of fizzled. People got interested in money instead of the environment.”

The couple grows asparagus, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and chestnuts on about 20 acres in Eastover. They do it as a hobby, they said, and to stay active.

Columbia needs to turn its waterways into a community and tourist asset, as Austin and Chattanooga have done, Jan Peterson said.

Her students give her hope. “They’re more interested than adults in recycling and turning lights off and saving energy,” she said.

A guy walked in wearing a reflective cuff on each leg of his pants, making him out as a cyclist. A guy in a floppy leather hat checked his phone.

To one side, Brian South said developers can be “green,” too. “I’ve been a conservationist, saving old buildings, saving old trees.”

Along a back wall, a painted mural showed a woolly mammoth lumbering toward the Gervais Street bridge.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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