Forty years ago, members of the Junior League of Schenectady started an environmental organization that has put down strong roots in the Capital Region.
On Monday, ECOS: The Environmental Clearinghouse, will commemorate four decades of preserving and promoting the natural environment with a sold-out anniversary celebration at Schenectady County Community College. Founding members will be honored, along with future stewards of the planet, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson will be feted.
“The publishing of ‘Silent Spring’ is widely considered the key to starting the modern environmental movement. It really brought right to the public’s attention the dangers of widespread use of pesticides,” explained Patrick Clear, executive director of ECOS.
The book was also the catalyst for the formation of ECOS, said Nancy Lange of Niskayuna, who was the co-chairwoman of the organization’s founding committee. The group was formed following a lecture at the First Unitarian Society on Wendell Avenue, she said.
“Our speaker was Betty Furness, a spokesperson for refrigerators, and so she was quite well-known, and we had a stellar turnout when she spoke,” she recalled. After the lecture, it was decided that there should be an efficient way for local environmentally-minded organizations to communicate. That was the original purpose of ECOS, she said.
The group began with a core of between 20 and 25 founders, some of whom are still active. They hired a part-time executive director and “printed out calendars of events and just served as a coordinating office,” Lange said.
Over the years, ECOS’ mission has expanded, and dropped “of Schenectady” from its formal name. The group, which now has 425 members, still serves its original purpose, but also conducts between 40 and 50 environmental programs each year for children and adults, on topics ranging from recycling to alternative energy. Members also perform trail maintenance and do road and bike trail clean-ups.
ECOS promotes appreciation for the area’s natural beauty as well. It publishes a guide to local natural areas and other booklets that map ski, snowshoe and bicycle trails. The group also leads hiking and cross-country skiing outings.
Many ECOS members are of retirement age, although younger members are welcome.
Many kids are growing up with less of a connection to the environment than children had in the past, Clear noted. “Right now it’s video games and TV and cell phones. Anything they want to learn about the environment they can just go online and learn,” he said.
But there are kids who do take an active interest in nature. That fact was made clear when ECOS put out a call for entries at local high schools, for a contest in honor of its 40th anniversary. The challenge: Express what “green” means, in any medium. ECOS received 129 entries — the most they’ve ever received for a contest. In poured poems, essays, posters, photos and even a YouTube video.
Erin Cherko, a junior at Shenendehowa High School, was the first-place winner. She created a photo book that promotes eco-friendly practices. Her images depict wind energy, water power, an energy-efficient light bulb, an electric car.
Her advice on preserving the environment: “Just doing daily things like turning off the water while you’re brushing your teeth or when they’re not in use, turning off the lights. Simple daily things will help.”
Cherko and the second- and third-place winners of the contest — Brynna Danaher of Columbia High School and Daniel Banker of Ballston Spa High School — will be honored at the ECOS anniversary celebration.
Joanne Coons, an environmental science teacher at Shenendehowa, had her students submit entries to the contest. She is proud of their work and of their concern for the environment.
“Some of the work that they produced is so touching that I know that it’s in their hearts and their minds, so I have a lot of hope,” she said. “I think we’ll have a bright future with this crew on board. I really do.”