Leaving Green Footprints: Hawaii

After months of running and training in the snowy cold weather of Boulder, Colorado, we were pretty ready for a change of scenery. Given that for most of the continental USA tree planting was pretty much out of the question for the cold winter months, we had decided early on to plan state #42 for January or February. I started reaching out to environmental groups in November and December and to my surprise and delight, I was immediately met with more responses than anywhere we’ve planted to far. In fact, I had found myself having to turn down a few of the offers for speaking or planting just due to time restraints, given the 8 days we would be there. So after a few weeks of planning and coordination, I ran 11 freezing miles in fresh ankle-deep snow, and 24 hours later inhaled the beautifully humid, salty warm air of the island of Maui.

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The second largest island in the volcanic chain of the Hawaiian islands, Maui is shaped roughly like a figure-eight, with forested mountains rising to about 4,000 feet above sea level on the west end and the huge 10,000 foot high Haleakala Crater dominating the west end. The middle area is mostly flat cropland, and contains most of the cities; one of the biggest industries on the island used to be the enormous sugarcane fields, which have since been shut down, the land in a strange sort of limbo until new plans are made for it. We took our first day relaxing on the beach, soaking up the wonderfully warm temperatures, and breathing the oxygen-rich sea level air. First thing the next morning we headed east, climbing 4,500 feet up the side of the Haleakala Crater to meet Joe Imhoff at Skyline Eco-Adventures. Joe has an awesome project here, using the zipline company to help fund removing invasive species that have decimated the native plant and animal life and restoring the habitats with native species.

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Unfortunately the ancient Hawaiians, upon making contact with European nations, realized they had no minerals or valuable goods to trade with, so they utilized the one commodity they had plenty of: timber. Koa wood from the native Koa trees was a highly sought-after hardwood, and after a few decades of trade, huge swathes of forests were clear cut, everything from Koa to Sandalwood to the vine-like Maile trees. This led to increased erosion of the topsoil with no root systems or tree cover to keep it in place, so to combat this, fast-growing species such as the Eucalyptus were planted. With growth rates around 14 feet per year as compared to the Koa tree’s 1 foot per year, Eucalyptus quickly dominated the landscape; due to their bitter leaves and the island’s lack of natural herbivore grazers, there was nothing to compete with or keep the tree’s growth in check. Today, only about 10-15% of Maui’s native forests are left.

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As it turns out, Joe had completed a project similar to Green Footprints just a few years ago. Wanting to travel the country and see everything it had to offer, he and his wife traveled to all 50 states, planting one tree in every state with different communities. For each tree, members of the community wrote their wishes on biodegradable slips of paper that were planted with the tree. You can read more about it, as well as watch his documentary, at plantawish.org . Joe Imhoff’s vision now that he is back on Maui is to remove some of these invasive forests and restore the native habitat, which he has already made great strides on. For most of the afternoon of our second day we worked in an acre-sized area where they had removed and mulched all the mature Eucalyptus, and had begun planting Sandalwood trees. We planted 54 Maile trees near the small Sandalwood; the faster growing Sandalwood trees will provide a sturdy scaffolding for the vine-like Maile trees to twist and anchor on as they grow. The long, narrow Maile leaves were used by the ancient Hawaiians to make the necklace for their famous Leis, and are important in many ancient traditions of the natives. It was a blast getting to talk to Joe (and to zoom around the tree canopy on Skyline Eco-Adventures ziplines!) and compare our stories and experiences of the many different states we had worked in, and to see some of the impact these kinds of projects can have on communities.

That evening we gave a presentation about Green Footprints to the Hawaii Tree Fruit Growers Association, which had been kind enough to help with a ton of the legwork for setting up our programs on the island. We met up again the next day with David and Annette, the head of the HTFG, at a local farmers market, where we loaded up with dozens of pounds of local fruits and veggies, which turned into a majority of our meals on the island. We feasted on everything from pineapples, papayas, passionfruit, starfruit, lychee, and longan fruit to guavas, chocolate sapote, bananas, jackfruit, and tons of different kinds of avocados. And lots and lots of coconuts. We even found something called an ‘ice cream bean fruit’, which looks like an enormous snap pea and contains a white fluffy meat inside with a consistency like cotton candy and a taste like vanilla ice cream.

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All loaded up with local fruits and veggies, we took of counterclockwise around the famous (and dangerous) Road to Hana. About 80 miles if you circumnavigate the whole thing, this narrow, one-lane, 2-way traffic ‘road’ has almost 600 twists and turns, 54 bridges and rides the edge of a sheer cliff into the ocean for nearly the entire way. This is the only way to get over to the east coast of the island, which for all its harrowing moments, is totally worth it. The quaint little rural town of Hana is a total departure from the typical touristy hotels and resorts in places like Kihei or Lahaina, and is framed by the rugged coast and a tropical rainforest. Just north of Hana is Kipahulu and Waianapanapa, which boast bamboo forests, spectacular waterfalls, black sand beaches, and lava caves. Our hike near Kipahulu ended up rain-soaked, but we enjoyed every second of it, especially the 400 foot Waimoku falls. Descending half a mile into the earth in a lava tube is a little disconcerting too, but I loved seeing all the different textures formed by the cooling magma on the walls and ceilings.

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We eventually made our way around the east half of the island, and to kick off our exploration of the west half, we went snorkeling between Maalaea and Lahaina. Working our way clockwise, we went cliff jumping off Black rock, swam in the stunning Olivine pools, and watched humpback whales slapping their tails off the coast. In a stroke of luck we met up with a wonderful local named Mike, who hosted us for our last few days and showed us a few gems on the island we would have never otherwise been able to experience. He took us out to ‘turtle beach’, and secluded little strip coast that, you guessed it, was full of turtles resting in the sand. So despite missing our own turtle, which obviously couldn’t make the journey across the Pacific, we got to see some real ones! On our final day all three of us hiked up the Ridge trail a little north of Wailuku; the views at the top were spectacular, the tree-covered folds of the mountains like something out of Jurassic Park. We were pretty sad leaving behind the breezy 85-degree weather and stepping out into 20 degrees and snow flurries the next morning; but stay tuned, because next month we’ll be back on the road, and our first two destinations are Nevada and California!

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Monthly Trash for 2017!

One of the missions of Green Footprints is to live a minimal-waste lifestyle, and to only produce 1 lb or less of landfill waste each month. The results are in– and I did it! For the total of 2017, I threw nothing away for the entirety of each month, collecting each piece of trash to be weighed at the end of the month. I ended up totaling 7.5 lbs of trash for the entire year! (You can see the photos and totals for January-July, as well as tips for reducing your own waste, here). It has been an interesting experiment, hanging on to everything I can’t recycle or compost, and has made me much more cognizant of just how much trash you can produce if you don’t pay attention– but also how easy it is to bring that number down near zero with just a little bit of attention and planning.

Next up, we’ll be heading to Hawaii at the end of January! Stay tuned for our tropical adventure with some of the local environmental groups on the island of Maui.

August 2017:  9 oz.

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September 2017: 8 oz.

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October 2017: 7 oz.

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November 2017: 13 oz.

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December 2017: 15 oz.

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Leaving Green Footprints– Arizona and New Mexico

After the desert landscape of Utah, the endless Ponderosa forests of Arizona seemed lush in comparison. Towering yellow and red canyons and rock faces gradually gave way to the mountainous pine-topped peaks of the northern Kaibab forest. I spent the first night in Arizona under the stars with little wisps of snow floating down, despite temperatures that shouldn’t have allowed for that—but weird thing happen when you get up above 7,500 feet. After a run the next morning through winding, hilly forest service roads, I made my way down into the city of Flagstaff, AZ. Nestled in the southern portion of the Colorado Plateau, the area has a remarkable diversity of geologic features ranging from volcanic lava tubes to meteor craters to the peaks of San Francisco Mountain. It is also an awesome place to camp, with miles of winding dirt service roads crisscrossing the extensive BLM areas just south of the city.

Early the next morning I met up with Tony, who I had met the previous year at a VW get-together that ended up in a caravan of Kombis trundling down a bumpy dirt path off Lake Mary Road (scroll down and read ‘The Spark’ from 6/10/2016 for more about that). After speaking to his math and science students at the Flagstaff Junior Academy, we got everyone in the Green Footprints spirit by running a mile around the scenic lake path behind the campus. With a little lesson on tree anatomy and the best soil and environments to plant in, small groups of students then broke out with shovels and Ponderosa saplings to plant new trees around the campus. The day concluded with everyone taking home their own little Ponderosa, the root-and-soil plug carefully wrapped in moist paper towels for the transit to be planted at each student’s home as a reminder that they, too, can make a difference, one ‘step’ at a time.

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I enjoyed a few days of running and exploring the pine-dominated BLM lands near the city, and of course, couldn’t pass up a long run on the iconic Lake Mary Road—‘the stomping grounds of Olympians’, as put by an old friend and Flagstaff native. Soon I was back on the road headed east towards Los Alamos, New Mexico. I had been contacted a few months before by Kevin, who had come across Green Footprints and wanted to involve his high school’s Eco club, even publishing an article about the planned event in their local paper. I met up with him early the next morning for a run and a full day’s schedule for planting some trees.

If I thought Flagstaff was high up there, I was in for a surprise. Los Alamos is cut through by towering peaks and steep valleys, and it seemed to me like every highway rode along the edge of a cliff. My first run in Los Alamos started at 9,000 feet and went up from there, leaving me gasping for air and questioning my proudly held ‘altitude acclimation’ from a summer of training in Boulder. I’d like to say the views were beautiful, which they were, but truth be told—I was pretty much singularly focused on finishing in one piece.

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After the run Kevin and I were joined by a few other members of the Los Alamos Eco club, and we kicked off the day with shovels, soil and 20 Ponderosa saplings at Chamissa Elementary. From there we moved on to Los Alamos High School, where we planted the remainder of the trees around the campus. It was great to work with a group of young people actively interested in helping to preserve their local environment, and to see that the spirit of sustainability isn’t always quite as few and far between as I sometimes think. I would also like to thank the Los Alamos High Eco club for their generous donation to Green Footprints, which helped to fund three states from their contribution alone.

For your sustainability challenge this holiday, I task you with being a little more ‘green’ with your Christmas decorating and gift-wrapping. Instead of shiny, plastic-coated wrapping paper, consider using newspaper, reusing wrappings from previous years you may have saved, or using gift bags, which can be reused later. Hope everybody has a happy and Green holiday!

Leaving Green Footprints: Utah

After an eventful tour all through colorful Colorado, my next destination was quite a bit more urban. Salt Lake City is an enormous sprawling metropolis ringed by the Wasatch mountains; despite the gridded city streets and highrises stretching off to the horizon, with just a 20 minute drive you can be up in the Wasatch wilderness with plenty of hiking trails (or skiing, in the winter). One of my longtime friends, Chris, had recently begun working for Telsa just outside Salt Lake, and we kicked off my arrival there with a run and a hike east of the city.

I met the next day with an excellent nonprofit called Tree Utah, whose mission is to “improve Utah’s quality of life for present and future generations by enhancing the environment through tree planting, education, and stewardship”. As our first Green Footprints program, we met with a summer camp for inner city children out in the Redwood Nature area, a wetland and greenway that has been preserved from urban development. Many of these kids have had extremely limited exposure to anything IMG_1138outside ‘in nature’, and it was interesting to get to work with them to teach them about some of the different plants and animals that lived all around them.

Next, I picked up fifty Bog Birches grown at a native nursery in Salt Lake, and with the help of the Utah Conservation Corps, they were planted at the Steep Mountain Nursery just outside of Wellsville, Utah. After an excellent visit with Chris and collaboration with Tree Utah, I got in one last run up in the mountains (along with some young and curious coyotes) before heading south. Big thanks to the folks at Tree Utah for helping out with the project!

 

Of course, no trip to Utah can be complete without spending some time in Moab, one of the biggest outdoor meccas in the country. I meandered into the little town surrounded by towering rust-red cliffs and immediately began exploring. The week was filled with lots of hiking, climbing, fishing, and running throughout the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks; a person could spend years in either place and never exhaust the endless wonders they have to offer. Nowhere else in the country can boast the astounding array of natural architecture on display in and around Moab, with massive burnt-orange-and-red arches, thin oblong towers of rock, and narrow, winding canyons. Each evening I took Turtle into the backcountry to a ‘secret’ spot I had found, maxing out all 63 horsepower and rear-wheel drive to off-road up a steep, rocky face that led to a majestic outcropping overhanging the Colorado river.Copy of IMG_8256 (1)Copy of IMG_8260 For a few evenings I was joined by an enormous grey dog named Wander (according to his tag) who was incessantly curious about our dinners cooking over a campfire. (I eventually met the owner, who informed us that other than the dog’s grandmother, which was half Alaskan Malamute, Wander was a domesticated wolf). I even ran into a crew shooting a nature documentary up in the hills south of Moab who were friendly enough to stop and chat. Tan, sandy and happy, at the end of the week Istarted heading south towards our next destination: Flagstaff, Arizona.

This week I challenge everyone to find a local urban area near where you live and to ‘green’ it up a little. Plant some trees, start a garden, or even just a few healthy bushes– in many area around the country, especially those that are lower income, kids have little to no exposure to the vibrant, living world just outside the fringes of their city or neighborhood. I think we could all benefit from a little more foliage in our everyday lives, no matter where you live. Until next time, keep making your Footprint a little more Green!

 

 

 

Leaving Green Footprints– Colorado

With 36 states under my belt and summer break for schools looming, I decided to spend the summer in Colorado exploring around the Rocky Mountains. Thanks to the generous donation from the New Mexico University’s John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center, on the way up to Colorado I routed through Mora, NM to pick up 50 Douglas Fir seedlings. I immediately contacted a number of different schools throughout northeastern Colorado, but with only a few days of classes left, nothing seemed to pan out. The little conifers ended up getting planted near Salida, Colorado; native to the high-altitude climate of the Rocky Mountains, this was the perfect habitat for the Douglas Firs, and in no time I had planted them among the beautiful Aspen and Pine dominated landscape.

I continued south, stopping next in Cañon City. Cut through by the Arkansas river and boasting a number of impressive canyons and mesas, its geography is probably best known for the Royal Gorge, a massive rift running east of the town and spanned by an enormous suspension bridge. It also has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest per capita populations of inmates in the country thanks to its numerous prisons, and is locally known as ‘Prison Valley’. After a run along Skyline drive, a narrow road winding along the crest of a ridge overlooking the city, I went down to a much lower elevation for a whitewater trip through the Gorge.

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Our next stop was one of the most peculiar geographic anomalies I have ever experienced. Traveling across the vast plains of the San Luis Valley at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, just east of the town of Alamosa, an enormous sand desert rises up off the plains. The giant expanse of dunes is like something straight out of an Arabian desert, carried there by wind blowing sand from deposits of the Rio Grande before being intercepted by the peaks of the Sangre de Cristos. The dunes are pretty awkward to hike up, but incredibly fun to surf down on sand boards.

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Looping farther south down through Durango and then back up north I managed to bag a number of peaks, some of which included Mt. Beirstadt and Mt. Engineer. I even met up with another fellow VW nomad in a yellow ’72 bus, James Hitch, who was well over halfway to his goal of bagging the top 100 highest peaks in Colorado (give him a follow on Instagram, @jameshitch25). Now back in Boulder, the next state on the list is Utah, where I’ll be working with TreeUtah to engage with the community of Salt Lake city, as well as some exploring farther south!

This week I challenge you to explore the outdoor activities your local community has to offer. Whether it’s a park, a little-used trail, or an epic 14,000 foot mountain, get out there and do some exploring of your own. Doesn’t matter if it’s the last few hours of daylight after work or a weekend outing; as I’ve seen firsthand, everywhere around the US has something to offer. Feel free to comment below on where you find to explore, and maybe you’ll inspire others to do the same!

 

 

 

Leaving Green Footprints- Summer Updates!

After a summer hiatus while schools (and therefore our planting programs) were out for the summer, it feels good to be back traveling and writing! As of mid-August, Green Footprints has covered 41 states, over 80% of the way there! The fundraiser has reached $900 of the $2,500 goal to plant 2,500 trees, so it has a ways to go to catch up. Speaking of catching up, stay tuned over the next couple weeks for updates on everywhere Green Footprints has been this August!

First, an update on my pledge to produce less than a pound of landfill waste per month. After January, I came up with a system for collecting my trash that kept things neat, organized and sanitary, utilizing used zip-resealable plastic bags as my ‘trash can’ to hold any waste I produced that month. Below you can see the results for the year so far:

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February 2017: 8 oz.20170409_191257.jpg

March 2017: 6 oz.

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April 2017: 11 oz.

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May 2017: 8 oz.

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June 2017: 6 oz.

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July 2017: 15 oz.

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Came pretty close in July, but otherwise I’ve managed to keep everything under 16 oz. per month, with my 7 month total clocking in at 4.25 lbs so far this year. That’s less so far this year than the average American produces EVERY DAY– at an average of 4.5 lbs a day*, by the end of July, a typical American has already thrown away 954 lbs. of trash. Holding on to your trash and never throwing anything in a trash can throughout the month really makes you cognizant of everything from the packaging associated with anything you’re buying new at a store right down to the choice to get a shrink-wrapped granola bar versus a piece of fruit when you want a snack. One of the most surprising things, however, is that I haven’t felt like reducing my waste has come at a big sacrifice, if any at all. I expected to feel a little inconvenienced, never throwing anything in a trash can and always making sure to bring reusables instead of disposable bags or containers, but after just a week or two of making these a habit, I don’t even notice anymore. Just goes to show how a few little behavioral changes can make an enormous impact on your environmental footprint!

Here are a few of the things I find making up a bulk of my trash:

-Metal twist ties and stickers: Even at local produce stands and organic grocery stores and ensuring not to use plastic produce bags, it seems every head of lettuce, bunch of asparagus and head of broccoli are twist-tied together, not to mention the sticker on every individual piece of produce.

-Foil wrappers: Because every once and a while, a Kind or Cliff bar are delicious.

-Scrap auto parts: Stripped pieces of wire, used fuel filters, shorted fuses, corroded gaskets, burnt-out lightbulbs… whenever something is acting up on the bus, it usually comes at the expense of least a little landfill waste.

-Compost bags: whenever I do happen to have leftover plastic bags, they generally get used to line my compost bin, because as I found firsthand, it becomes nearly impossible to empty without a liner– the decomposition happens on its own schedule, which is basically immediately as long as the temperature is above freezing. Needless to say, these liners tend to only survive one use.

This coming week I task you with the challenge of carrying around everything you would normally have thrown in a garbage bin for at least a day. You might be surprised how quickly things add up. Stay tuned for updates on my most recently completed states of Colorado, Utah, Arizon and New Mexico! Until then, stay Green!

*US EPA: https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/

 

 

 

Leaving Green Footprints: Texas

Sorry for the lapse in posting! It’s been a busy time up in Colorado, getting some much needed work done on Turtle and taking care of mundane necessities such as license plate renewals. Green Footprints is currently on a brief hiatus to finish out fundraising so that the project can be finished out for the 13 remaining states. Check out the latest blog below to catch up with the project!

Everything is definitely bigger in Texas.

Wide open spaces in every direction, as far as the eye can see, for hundreds of miles at a time. Just a little ways over the border from Louisiana I came into a massive city with towering buildings and gridlocked traffic: Houston. Just west of the city I was meeting with Mrs. Hess’s Environmental Science students at Waller High School. Although the campus was undergoing quite a bit of construction, they did have a greenhouse that was perfect for getting the fifty Longleaf Pine seedlings a couple year’s head start of growth. We planted each seedling in its own pot, arranged with the school’s other plants in the irrigated and regulated greenhouse. In a few years, the dusty brown dirt around the campus will be transformed by these little trees!

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My next stop was Austin, Texas (which I’ve been told is NOT my namesake, it just happens to be the same name… spelled different, after all). I’ve always heard how outdoorsy, progressive and fun the city is, but I hIMG_7989ad my doubts; this was Texas, after all. I’m happy to say that these descriptions don’t even do it justice. With miles of trails through the thickly forested valley running through the city, parks dotting the landscape every couple of miles and innumerable spring-fed swimming holes, it was reminiscent of other go-to outdoor meccas like Asheville and Boulder. Lady Bird lake was jam-packed with kayakers and SUPer’s in the blazing sunshine, and runners of every shape and size crisscrossed the trails through the parks and city. As it turns out, Austin also boasts one of the largest bat colonies in North America. Every night around sunset, tens of thousands of them fly out from their roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge, a living, undulating tunnel of fur and leathery wings zooming through the air in their nightly feeding frenzy. It was quite a sight to behold.

The human impact on Texas’ ecology is one of the more odd and fascinating situations in the country. With enormous swaths of arid scrubland, much of the state has been historically used for cattle ranching; today, some of that grazing land has been utilized for more exotic fauna. Texas boasts a larger population of privately-owned captive tigers than all other tigers anywhere else on earth—combined. Additionally, for various uses including consumption, fenced hunting operations and attractions, species from all over the world can be seen throughout the state. As I motored along the highway, I passed everything from standard cattle to wildebeest to impala to zebras. It brought back memories of studying wildlife management practices in the Rift Valley in Tanzania as an undergraduate.

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Over the next couple days I made my way up through New Mexico and Colorado, heading for Boulder, where Turtle’s tags were due to expire in a few weeks and needed to be renewed. With giant gashes in the exhaust manifold, the pesky #3 cylinder down to 60 psi and needing new rings, and crap in the gas tank periodically jamming the fuel pump and stalling out the van, it was time for some serious TLC. For the last few weeks I’ve been up in Boulder tinkering, running, and brainstorming on how to raise the remaining $1,800 to finish out Green Footprints and spread the message of sustainability all over the country. I’d love to hear from everyone! Please feel free to comment below or on our Facebook page.

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This week I challenge you to pick one errand that is within a few miles from your home and rather than driving, walk or bike. This may sound a little hypocritical coming from a project that involves driving between states, but I do my utmost best to minimize my driving whenever possible, whether that means walking to the grocery store a few miles away or running around to explore whatever new surroundings I find myself in that day. So whether it’s a trip to the bank, a quick jaunt to the store for some milk, or a get-together with friends, find one that you can travel on foot or bike. The more you get into this habit, the more you’ll realize how nice it is to get outside and turn your errands into a nice small heart-rate-increasing break from your busy day! Wishing everyone a happy and green May! (As the snow comes down in a thick blanket outside my window right now in Boulder… but that’s Colorado for you, after all.)

Leaving Green Footprints: Mississippi and Louisiana

The shape of the Gulf coastline between Florida and Texas looks like somebody threw a wad of overcooked spaghetti noodles against a cold refrigerator door, and kept the ones that stuck. The twisting, convoluted transition from land to sea creates innumerable bays, inlets and swamps that give the area a very unique ecology. I spent the morning running across a massive bridge spanning the Bay St. Louis; for whatever reason, I’ve always really enjoyed running over bridges, suspended by a relatively thin slab of metal and concrete above the frothing ocean waves. My first stop was near a science center in western Mississippi, where I had organized to plant fifty Longleaf Pines. The sun beat down in the sticky, humid coastal forest, sweat pouring off my head as I plugged holes for the pine seedlings; a far cry from the cold, snowy weather indicative of late-winter-early-spring in many other areas of the country. I loved it. Although it was an awesome experience, my December up in the Dakotas and Minnesota had been enough winter to last me at least the next few years.

Following highway 10, Turtle and I sputtered into one of the most iconic cities in the US, one I had been bidden to visit with nearly everyone I’ve encountered on my trip thus far: New Orleans. Rich with history, the Big Easy also represents the fragility of our mighty technological prowess against the primal forces of nature. The city for the most part has bounced back from the devastation from hurricane Katrina back in 2005, but there are many surrounding areas that may never see a full recovery. Unfortunately, given that the entire area is only about a foot above sea level, the next few decades and centuries will likely see it consumed by the rising ocean levels. That morning I met with Mrs. Sullivan’s Environmental Science classes at the Lusher School, where we planted citrus trees as well as a number of vegetables including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, okra and cucumbers. The students even had scheduled a field trip out to the coast to plant Spartina dune grasses to reintroduce native species and hopefully strengthen the dunes that are quickly eroding under the pressure of development. Great job to Mrs. Sullivan and her students for being so environmentally active!20170323_100455

Of course, I had to check out the obligatory local attractions, so I spent an afternoon ambling around the French Quarter and roasting the inside of my mouth on some delicious Cajun crawfish. On some of my runs I zipped around through Audubon Park, the massive City Park, and zig-zagged through narrow streets lined with endless plots of above-ground mausoleums. It was a cool experience, but the city had a gritty, hurried feel to it that some people love, but I have never been able to quite get used to. I was a little relieved to be back among southern forests when I rolled out a couple days later on my way west.

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As the weather gets warmer with the onset of spring, this week’s Green Footprints challenge is to start a garden in your yard! Whether you’re a green-thumbed pro or have never dug a hole in your life, anyone can set aside a small plot in their yard or balcony and start growing some of their own fruits and vegetables. Some of the easiest ones to start with include lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, many of which can be grown from kitchen scraps! Cut off the base of a head of lettuce and plant it along with a few leaves; cut and plant the base of a bunch of celery; save potatoes that have begun growing eyes, cut away the portion with the eyes and plant it in the soil. Just make sure to plant your crops in good soil and to regularly water them, and in no time you’ll be growing your own salads!

Leaving Green Footprints: Florida

Leafless oak trees and rolling hills gave way to flat, sandy pine forests as I headed south, eventually transitioning into palm trees until the road dead-ended into the endless blue expanse of the Gulf Coast. Florida! Panama City Beach! Of all the states I’d experienced so far, this one just has a certain feel to it. Perhaps it was a kind of imprinted familiarity; I was born not too far from Daytona Beach, although we had moved when I was very young. I stepped out into the warm coastal sunshine, inhaled a big breath of salty air, and couldn’t help the huge grin spreading across my face. This is the way to spend a winter.

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Although I had practically grown up on the beach, splashing out among the waves almost before I could walk, the panhandle- Gulf Coast beaches were quite different from the Atlantic coasts I was used to. Due in part to quartz crystals eroded into microscopic bits that were flushed from the Appalachian mountains by rivers and creeks into the Gulf during the last Ice Age, the sand is so white and fine it’s like treading through flour. It even makes a satisfying squeaking sound as it sifts around under your feet. The ocean laps gently up on the brilliant white sand with waves reaching only a few inches if there’s no wind; a far cry from the roaring waves on the east coast I used to gleefully dive into to bodysurf as a young kid. Looking out at the brilliant blue water and swaying palm trees, I may as well have been on some Caribbean island.

Over the next few days I picked my way slowly down the Gulf coast, exploring every little isolated beach I could safely access without tromping through miles of forest or getting Turtle stuck in the sand. Whether it was the warm sunny weather, the extra Vitamin D, or just being near the ocean (a couple different studies have shown that being near water actually reduces physiological stress), I was so happy I almost couldn’t contain myself. I was in the tropics, had gigs speaking and planting trees with schools for the next four states on my list, and was running healthily again; after the rough Fall and Winter, I was glad that Green Footprints was finally gaining some traction.

(As I’m writing this, a common rhetorical technique comes to mind; building up a happy, positive picture in order to contrast some dark, unfortunate event that happens next. I’m happy to say that’s not what I’m doing, so if you’re sick of the unicorns and rainbows so far, buckle up 😊 )

I made my way down to Everglade City to meet up with an old friend and spent the next few nights in one of the coolest spots I’ve had the privilege to experience. Cody was working at the NC Outward Bound School’s Everglades base camp, which is located on Sunset Island, and is only accessible via a short canoe trip over from the mainland. Essentially a little clearing cut into the vast mangrove forests that have grown over enormous shell mounds left by ancient Native American tribes, the camp has a few cabins for the crew leaders, a common area, a dock, and enough outdoor gear to outfit a small army. Rather than feeling like an outsider, everyone at the Outward Bound base camp went out of their way to make me feel welcomed (and even gave me my own room!), and in no time I was helping with the general operations around the camp. The tiny island couldn’t have been more picturesque; every evening was marked by an unimpeded view of the sunset as it plummeted out of sight on the western horizon, everything painted by golden rays of light spilling through the slotted palm leaves. Each morning Cody and I would paddle over to the mainland and run through the seemingly endless forests and grassy prairies, oranges and grapefruits hanging from the canopy as we made our way through the tropical landscape. After an especially long run while icing our legs in the cool waters of an old abandoned rock quarry, we were greeted by a juvenile alligator that was curious enough to sidle over until he was only a few feet away, its tiny beady eyes peering just above the waterline. Only about two feet long, it just sat there, pondering these two strange featherless, flightless storks. It was pretty amazing to watch its ruthlessly efficient movement as it slithered through the water without leaving a single ripple in its wake; it’s no wonder they have been around essentially unchanged for nearly 200 million years. Probably best for both parties, it didn’t come any closer.

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It was hard to say goodbye to the awesome group working on Sunset Island; huge thanks to the NC Outward Bound School for their hospitality! Continuing my way south, Turtle and I motored across the lower tip of the giant Florida peninsula and down the iconic Highway 1 through the Florida Keys. It’s a pretty interesting route, much different than anything I’ve ever traveled. Every few miles provide the opportunity to stop off at a state park with beautiful beaches and coral reefs, and each bridge crossing brings you to an entirely independent spit of land. Running parallel to the highway to the west lies the ruins of the old Florida Overseas Railroad, now broken through in many places and overgrown with trees and shrubs like something from a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Each Key had its own unique atmosphere: Key Largo a bustling, touristy city; Marathon Key a more laid-back, local-heavy beachfront; Key West a wild, booze-infused party. I met up with Daegel, a friendly local who lived right on one of the main drags down from Mallory Square, where the Sunset Serenade takes place every evening. It was cool to get a local’s perspective on the area, and even cooler when he helped me score a safe parking spot right off Greene Street. On my way out I woke up well before sunrise, heading groggily over to the Southernmost Point Buoy to beat the crowds for a photo of Turtle only 90 miles away from Cuba.

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Making my way back to the mainland and up to Boynton Beach, I met with Mrs. Hess at the SouthTech Academy. The students were very engaged and inquisitive, firing off questions left and right after I did my presentation about Green Footprints, and were excited to get involved. We planted fifty Florida Slash Pines on the school grounds, the bushy seedling poking their bright green needles up from the sandy soil as some of the students diligently sprayed each tiny plot to moisten their roots and get them started in their new permanent homes.

My next stop was Cocoa Beach, a spot that, for me, that is brimming with nostalgia more than almost anywhere else in the world. I grew up as a kid visiting my grandparents in their condo, framed by the Atlantic to the east and the Banana River to the west, spending the days splashing around at the beach and the evenings watching the night lit up by the brilliant streaks of space shuttles launching from Cape Canaveral. On a whim I stopped in a local surf shop and rented a surfboard, something I had always wanted to learn to do. A few hours later I flopped down on the sand, gasping for breath but grinning from the effort. Surfing is hard! I spent most of the time getting pounded and flipped around as I tried to paddle out past the break, only once successfully popping up for a few brief moments of salty, frothy ecstasy as I rode the wave to shore (and promptly ate a facefull of sand). I have to say, Turtle looks pretty good with a surfboard fin protruding from the roof rack; kind of like a dorsal fin on a boxy metal shark.

Before leaving the sunny, tropical paradise, I had one more stop: a Volkswagen festival in Lakeland, Florida. I rolled into the event lot and was greeted by rows upon rows of Buses and Beetles as far as they eye could see. The whole spectrum of conditions were on display: rusted, barely-road-worthy Beetles to gleaming, immaculate Split-Window Buses proudly displaying the iconic VW emblem on the front nose. I ambled through a field full of enough miscellaneous parts and pieces that a full vehicle could have been built from scratch right there on the lawn. The community of people I’ve encountered directly as a result of owning this old, finicky, lovable bus have by and large been warm, welcoming and friendlier than I could have ever expected.

As your sustainability challenge for this week, I task you with picking something on your mental list of to-do’s that involves replacing or upgrading something in your home or office, and to instead fix it or make one of your own. Maybe you ‘need’ a new piece of furniture, or your jacket has a few holes in it, or you’d really like a new car so you can have those cool new Bluetooth enabled speakers. Rather than going and buying a new table, jacket or car, instead go to a thrift store or get some wood to make a table; learn to sew, get some fabric from an older piece of clothing and repair your jacket; and rig up your own stereo setup in your car. Send in your photos! We’d love to hear from you. And this week instead of going ‘Green’, you can join me in going Tar Heel baby blue to celebrate our NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! Go Heels!

Leaving Green Footprints– Alabama

The few days of respite from the winter weather had worn off despite having travelled even further south as I woke up to a chilly, dew-soaked morning in Vestavia Hills, AL. Although not quite in the Appalachians, Vestavia Hills is quite aptly named; I was constantly down-shifting as Turtle struggled slowly up the steep inclines of the neighborhood hills while I made my way over to Hoover High School. I had spent the morning running around Red Mountain Park, navigating forested trails that crisscrossed through the remains of abandoned mines and crumbling stone structures. I was rewarded after one especially long climb by a soaring overlook off of a ringed platform built around an ancient Oak tree, accessible only by a narrow, planked rope bridge like the treetop Ewok villages from Star Wars.

To my surprise, I found that Red Mountain Park is not a funded state or national park, but rather a project born out of a committee called the Red Mountain Greenway and Recreational Area Commission to preserve the natural environment and history surrounding the area. As a nonprofit, it is fully funded by donations and revenue generated by some of the various activities available around the park such as bike rentals and a ropes courses. It was encouraging to see such a project spring up solely from the volition of a group of concerned local citizens, and is an excellent case study on how to create and maintain an entirely self-sufficient park. From now on, this area will not be threatened by the expansion of the numerous businesses and warehouses nearby, and will continue to provide people with a natural escape in the middle of this urban area. With the current threats to our government park systems and natural resources, Red Mountain Park may serve as an important model on how to preserve some of our cherished natural environments around the country.

Later that morning I puttered up the bus loop of Hoover High School, Turtle dwarfed by soaring columns framing the entrance like an ancient GrIMG_0361eek coliseum.  I hoisted the container of Red Oak seedlings nestled in about 30 pounds of soil and struggled my way up endless flights of stairs, wandering down the hallways and trying unsuccessfully to look like I knew where I was going while I struggled to remember the directions given to me by the front desk. I finally arrived at the correct room and was greeted by a bubbly and enthusiastic Mrs. Ort, who flew past me out of the room as I struggled to keep up with both her quick pace and instructions. We had a busy day ahead! I made a list of mental notes as she energetically sketched the outline of the programs: four classes, two planting
locations, a morning news crew, data that would be used for a future lab for her students. I did my best to match her quick tempo throughout the day as we zipped between classrooms, school grounds and tool sheds with various groups of environmental science students, most of which were engaged and excited to help (which had nothing to do with IMG_0365my program getting them out of their quiz for that day, I’m sure). By the end of the day we had successfully planted the Red Oaks around the school campus, interviewed with a local news crew, and spoken to hundreds of students about some of the changes they can make to live a little more sustainably. At the suggestion of Mrs. Ort, I provided the students with the current data map for Green Footprints which includes the locations, amounts and species of the project to date, which they will utilize in an assignment to calculate the estimated carbon offset of the project. You can find this map on the website under ‘Our Progress’ in the ‘Green Footprints Project’ tab. Huge thanks to Mrs. Ort and all the Hoover High School students who participated; it was a blast! Check out the news coverage of the program here!

 

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This week, I challenge you to check out a local park or conservation area that you haven’t visited before, and to get out and experience it! Go for a run, hike or bike ride and unplug from the craziness of everyday life. It’s important that we all foster an appreciation for our natural areas, whether we live in the heart of a bustling city of a rural cabin miles away from the nearest road. We’d love to hear from you; comment below on your favorite parks and how you make the most of them!