Editor: I was not born an environmentalist, but I have come to care greatly about the environment and the future, particularly for this great country of ours. That’s a big reason I am on the executive board of The Nature Generation, a nonprofit focused on preparing youth for the environmental challenges of the future by connecting them with nature today.
We all travel different paths in life to get to where we are, and my path towards environmental concern started as a boy growing up in Illinois in the 1960s. Looking back, there were a couple things I remember, that sort of amaze me now. The first was that there was always trash along the side of the road. Always. And a lot of it. The second was the fact that if you fished in the Illinois River, you would never catch anything but carp or bullhead because the river was so polluted. I liked to fish back then and anything we caught, we’d throw on the bank because you couldn’t eat them due to the pollution. That was just the way it was, and no one seemed to think anything else about it.
Then you became aware of things happening more broadly, like a river on fire in Ohio due to pollution, or eagles dying due to DDT. And you start to think, it doesn’t have to be this way. Earth Day happens, and we all start to pick up trash, and plant trees. The EPA was formed (under a Republican president), and we started going after polluters, and low and behold, our air, and our water started cleaning up.
Forty-five years later, and the world is different. You don’t see near as much trash on the side of any road. The Illinois River is rejuvenated, and there are bass, walleye, crappies, and other game fish. There are bald eagles and waterfowl on the river, something I never ever saw in my youth.
My wife and I live on a small farm in Virginia now, and about six years ago I joined NatGen. Living on the farm, my connection with nature and the environment is much closer. The weather affects you more, streams cross your property, and you notice other things. Woods that existed one day and are clear cut. Large chicken farms that have the potential to affect the entire watershed. Building projects with mud and sludge running into local creeks. You read in the paper about a chemical company that has poisoned an entire community in Pennsylvania. Your friends that have lived on the Illinois River for more than 15 years have to move, because of the development of frac sand mining nearby. You realize that the challenges to the environment are never over and this will continue forever. Clean water, clean air, and a clean environment—they should be a given, but they aren’t. NatGen is one of the organizations making a difference and educating our youth, so that they can make smart decisions in the future.
I like to think that passing a torch to the next generation is a pretty good thing for our youth and our environment.
Max Hall, Marshall
Executive Board Member, The Nature Generation