GAMBIER — The 10th annual Knox County Earth Day Festival will celebrate how healthy it is for people to be outdoors.
The April 17 festival at the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) is themed “Healthy Inside & Out” to encourage visitors go outside as a way to keep themselves and the planet healthy.
“Even exploring your backyard with your children is meaningful. You can find lightning bugs and katydids. There are small things you can really appreciate,” said Heather Doherty, director of the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon.
After a decade of growth, the Earth Day Festival now draws about 2,500 people. Visitors connect to environmental and health-related resources from about 90 exhibitors set up inside the KAC from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Even the Kenyon College Bookstore gets a booth to sell health and environmentally-related books.
“I’m happy that it’s grown into such a broader event for the college,” Doherty said.
Visitors will enjoy hands-on nature at the event, learn how to bring nature into their backyards with native plants and find out about Knox County’s great spaces for getting outdoors. Visitors will also have an opportunity to take action by writing personal commitments for green, healthy living.
“Spending time in nature reduces blood pressure and helps with symptoms of ADHD,” Doherty said. “Walking or bicycling outdoors does even more to improve health and fight obesity. For young people, it plants the seeds for developing a sense of stewardship for our world.”
To emphasize that, two new environmentally-friendly ways will get people to the festival. Knox Area Transit (KAT) will shuttle people from Mount Vernon to the event, and bicyclists can enjoy a staffed five-mile course to the festival on their own bike or a rental.
The shuttle buses “are a meaningful addition because we can reach parts of the community that we couldn’t reach before,” Doherty said. “We are proud that this is one of the best opportunities for all of the community to come and experience the college and come away from the festival with real experiences that can improve your life.”
The KAT shuttles will pick up people at Riverside Park, Columbia Elementary, Mount Vernon High School’s stadium, the CA&C Depot, Mount Vernon’s downtown square, Dan Emmett Elementary and the Hiawatha Water Park to take them to the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The bike course will begin at the CA&C Depot, 501 S. Main St., just south of the Kokosing River in Mount Vernon. There will be free bike helmets for children, thanks to a grant received by the Knox County Health Department. Y-Not Cycling will provide bike rentals for a donation of any amount. The Knox County Park District is hosting the launch site activities.
The 5-mile course will include portable bathrooms and volunteers to assist riders. The course includes the City of Mount Vernon’s newly-constructed downtown trail that connects the depot to the present Kokosing Gap Trail.
“Knox County is fortunate to have miles of scenic bike trails creating opportunities for everyone to get outside and be active,” said Tami Ruhl, health educator with the Knox County Health Department. “Bicycling is great for all ages, from childhood up through the adult years. It increases strength, balance and endurance while putting less stress on joints compared to jogging or other strenuous activities.”
Once bicyclists reach the festival, there will be a secure bike corral at the KAC, and K-Bikes from Gambier will do three workshops on bicycle maintenance at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. Y-Not Cycling is giving away a bicycle at the festival; everyone who attends gets a ticket for a chance to win, but people who ride the five-mile course to the festival get an additional ticket and a bag of giveaways.
This is also the 10th anniversary of the Earth Day Challenge Half Marathon and Four Mile races that begin at 8 a.m. before the festival. Participants of all abilities are invited to walk or run through the historic Kenyon College campus; the half-marathon runners then go on the Kokosing Gap Trail and end at the KAC.
For the first time, Knox Area Transit shuttles will pick up people at Riverside Park, Columbia Elementary and the Hiawatha Water Park to take them to the festival.
Earth Day Festival is hosted by the Brown Family Environmental Center, Knox County Health Department, Knox County Park District, Knox County Recycling & Litter Prevention and OSU Extension Knox County. This free event will also feature:
• A raffle to win a bicycle from Y-Not Cycling
• A station to recycle electronic waste
• Live music by Goslee Reed and Kean
• Farm marketers and live farm animals
• Free health screenings
Doherty tries to make the environmental ideas at the festival as specific as possible. For example, parents and children will get to search a “pond in a bucket” to see what they could find by searching a pond near their home.
“What’s magical for children is that they don’t know what’s going to come out. You stick in your net and you might find something you have never seen before,” she said.
If it rains, tents will be provided to protect farm animals, which this year will include baby goats, a pig, rabbits, chickens and perhaps a mini donkey.