Families flock to Modesto's 24th Earth Day in the Park

naustin@modbee.comApril 20, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

— Sunshine and a light breeze greeted visitors to shady Graceada Park on Saturday. It was a good day to save the Earth.

Families lined up to spin wheels for freebies, make newspaper planting pots and pet K-9 officers at the city of Modesto's 24th annual Earth Day in the Park.

Event organizer Vicki Rice estimated 7,500 people stopped by throughout the day, visiting 92 booths or recycling e-waste, a fund-raiser for the Modesto Dog Park.

This year a free bus shuttled participants from Crosspoint Church downtown to the park every 20 minutes to ease parking problems, sponsored by Gilton Resource Recovery, Rice said.

Scents from food vendors and sounds from the bands The Pendletons, High Voltage and Southern Bend filled the park. Recycling bins decorated by Modesto junior high schools stood waiting for recognition.

At the Salida Middle School Reptile Education Club booth, sixth-grader Logan Hadley lounged with an Argentine black-and-white tegu sprawled across his lap. The languid lizard barely stirred as young passers-by ran hands over his back.

"It feels like beadwork," Logan said as he squirted hand sanitizer onto the palms of the brave few who reached out to the reptile.

Salida seventh-grader Natalie Marable stood nearby, accessorized with a 3-foot bald python wrapped around her waist.

"I just thought they were really interesting," she said, stroking the brown patterned skin and keeping the tongue-flicking head away from the curious.

Science teacher Laurel Peterson gripped a monitor, roughly 10 pounds of flustered lizard raking his large tail and kneading her with his claws. "It's his first show," she said.

Far calmer was Modesto Police Department K-9 officer Stryker, a black German shepherd who greeted a long string of young admirers with partner Mark Ulrich.

Next to them, officer Jon Griffith let children sit in his squad car.

"As I see it, we belong to the people," so positive interaction is all to the good, he said.

Long lines of people queued for free tomato plants at Gilton Resource Recovery, where resource diversion coordinator Mary Kay Cruz showed how to fold strips of newspaper into eco-friendly planting pots. Cruz said she was about a third of the way through her stock of 1,000 plants.

Modesto Irrigation District's Audrey Maring showed elements recycled from refrigerators while a solar panel powering fans caught youngsters' attention.

At the StaRT bus service booth, Stacie Morales spread the word about sharing the ride and sparing the air. Powered by compressed natural gas, full-size Stanislaus Regional Transit buses operate more cleanly, with significant savings over gas.

Morales said she often speaks to small groups of seniors but expected to reach about 2,000 fairgoers Saturday, letting people in Modesto know they can connect from Modesto Area Transit and travel the county, or take a bus trip to Bay Area medical centers.

But for all that was there, 20 vendors on a waiting list were not, Rice said. Expect the festival's 25th year to be even bigger, she said.

Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter, @NanAustin, www.modbee.com/education.

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