Earth Day is an exciting time at zoos. It's easy to focus on the negative things affecting our environment because those are the problems that need attention. Loss of species, degradation of habitat, poisoning of waterways, etc., challenge us every day. Earth Day, however, is a celebration of the successes we have had and the successes that are to come. For example, 30 years ago there were no river otters in Kansas.

Now, not only can you see the baby otters recently born at Lee Richardson Zoo, but you can find them in the wild in eastern Kansas. Earth Day itself is a great example of success in conservation. Knowledge is power and Earth Day has shown that more and more people have knowledge of what is wrong and, more importantly, the knowledge of what they can do to properly care for our environment.

Earth Day was started by a Midwesterner by the name of Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was a U.S. senator from Wisconsin who made environmental awareness his goal in life. Everywhere he looked he saw the environmental damage that humans were causing and pushed to help minimize and reverse that damage where possible. He started the first Earth Day as a nationwide "teach-in" that occurred at schools around the nation. On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans gathered at various locations around the United States to learn about the environment and how they could help. While the world is continually changing, it is also staying the same. Several events that are said to have played a major role in the success of the first Earth Day included a large oil spill that occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., and the burning of Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which actually caught fire due to the chemicals that had been dumped into it. Such incidents show us that we cannot and should not ease up on the momentum of our conservation efforts.

While there are still problems such as these around, we as a society have made tremendous strides. Today it is easy to find products or venues that claim to be "green." In fact, the word "green" has become a household term to mean "environmentally friendly." So commonplace is the term "green" that even young children understand the meaning. This is extremely important as the next generation is who will be carrying humanity forward. And it is from the next generation that we are borrowing our use of the world around us.

Another sign of our success at improving environmental awareness is the sheer size of Earth Day now. What started with 20 million Americans has grown into an international event that occurs in more than 170 countries and includes about 1.5 billion people annually. These signs point to a brighter future for our world, our fellow organisms and future generations.

As Earth Day is an event to promote local environmental awareness and action, we at Lee Richardson Zoo invite you to join us on April 24, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., for our Earth Day Celebration, fondly named "Party for the Planet." Our Earth Day Celebration is open to everyone and is free. It is a day full of fun activities that may teach you something you didn't know about the world around you. An old Kenyan proverb says, "Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children." So make your own Earth Day resolution and come join us Wednesday at the zoo. In addition to a fun day you may gain a better appreciation for our world, and learn what you can do to be a better steward of the Earth so that our children can enjoy what we have come to love.