Ridges to Reefs newsletter

The District Goes Digital!

Heidi Petty

February 17, 2022

As I donned my Earth Day 2019 cleanup t-shirt and readied our GoPro camera, I realized that Earth Day 2020 was going to be a whole new experience for America. Faced with the uncertainty of the world at the time and unable to get our boots wet in our creeks, the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District (CCRCD) took a new approach to Earth Day.

Kids proudly display their drawings of the environment during Chris Lim's "What’s in Your Watershed?" presentation.

The CCRCD is known as one of the leaders in Contra Costa County for its Earth Day volunteer events. The stay-at-home order forced us to cancel these community events and look at the world of conservation from a new perspective—a digital perspective. The innovative technology that has become a tool in our environmental conservation “toolbox” allowed us to reach people all over the County in a new and surprising way. By hosting digital events this season, we were able to reach over 200 people. We educated the community on a variety of conservation-based topics, including “Backyard Birding” and “The 4 R’s of Recycling.” These webinars brought us all closer together at a time when distancing was the norm.

Title screen from the Virtual Botany Hike at Fernandez Ranch presented by the CCRCD and JMLT.

We are proud to say it was a successful adventure. The technology allowed the CCRCD staff and our stakeholders to enjoy “being outside” while being safely tucked away at home. As we sent our images and message through cyberspace, we also reached people who couldn’t normally attend a hike or a cleanup. For our Virtual Hike at Fernandez Ranch, we braved the terrain for the benefit of our viewers. Using Zoom, we took viewers on a trail to the breathtaking views of the Carquinez Strait while at the same time exploring the botanical pleasures of this gorgeous place we call home. Over 80 people attended the virtual hike led by Dr. Dean Kelch, State Botanist, and co-produced with our partners at John Muir Land Trust. Imagery captured by Chris Lim’s (Executive Director, CCRCD) drone helped provide viewers with a sense of being on the trail. At the same time, Dean’s commentary highlighted the botanical diversity in the world hidden in the understory of this beautiful hillside paradise.

You might ask yourself, but did this serve the purpose that Earth Day is so famous for…cleanups? If no one hosted cleanups, was Earth Day 2020 truly a success? To this, I say yes! Sometimes messaging and education is just as important as removing pounds of trash from the landscape. Knowledge allows for real change—future change. If we reached one new person and made them think twice about throwing a can in a waterway or a cigarette butt out the window, then we have done our job. It is the future that will judge whether the knowledge that drives behavior change is enough to combat the damage we do to the natural world. Perhaps it can even make cleanups unnecessary events of the past. The future will be better because of the events we held this year. We helped people realize the importance of reaching out to one another, we provided information to help people make environmentally-friendly choices, and we continued to pursue our mission—albeit digitally!

A still from the video introduction of Eric Akeson’s presentation, “History of Earth Day with Harold Wood”.