The first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska in 1872. J. Sterling Morton promoted the planting of trees in his community using his influence as editor of the newspaper and later as secretary of the Territory of Nebraska. He touted trees for wind breaks, to hold soil and for basic esthetics. In 1872 he organized the first Arbor Day with contests and prizes for the individuals and civic organizations that properly planted the most trees. More than one million trees were planted on that day.
Another champion of Nature was Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. In the late 60’s Senator Nelson tried to focus fellow politicians on the degradation of the environment. President Kennedy agreed to a nationwide tour to promote the issues, but the public was largely disengaged. Finally, inspired by teach-ins formed on university campuses to protest the Vietnam War, Senator Nelson launched a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment to be held on April 22, 1970. This approach touched a nerve as many citizens had concerns about pollution. Nelson: “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.” Gaylord Nelson was a Senator for 18 years and authored legislation to create a national hiking trail system and the Appalachian Trail. He sponsored or co-sponsored key pieces of legislature such as the Wilderness Act. He laid groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. After retiring from public service he worked as an advisor to the Wilderness Society. How heartening to see the effects of just a few dynamic leaders committed to the future. “Each generation takes the earth as trustees.” J. Sterling Morton
Facts above are from the National Parks Service, the Arbor Day Foundation and the Wilderness Society.