OCSWA Hosts Second Annual Earth Day Block Party April 22; Meet the Organizer and Exhibitors
Hear from the Executive Director of OCSWA and many of the vendors who attended the second annual Earth Day block party on April 22.
The Ohio County Solid Waste Authority held its second annual Earth Day Block Party on April 22 at the Wheeling Artisan Center on Main Street. Originally planned to be held outside at Wheeling’s Heritage Port, event planners scrambled last minute to find an indoor location as forecasted rain became less of a possibility and more of a certainty. Indeed, it rained throughout the day causing some to speculate if the event would be a success or not. Once things kicked off, the answer was clear—this was a great time for all involved.
Hundreds of community members came out to share in the festivities—including live performances from local musicians and over two dozen vendors from local, regional, and state organizations. Despite the intention of just perusing through the event, I quickly found myself inspired to write a story by the huge amount of vendors in attendance. The goal here is not only to small bits of their story, but to show the people of Wheeling—and West Virginia as a whole—that good things do, indeed, happen here.
The Ohio County Solid Waste Authority–the main organizers of the event–offered free plants at their booth that had been brought to the Solid Waste Authority for disposal. Instead, the plants were diverted from landfills, repotted, and handed out for people to plant in their garden. In 2022 this effort helped keep 500 lbs of plants from being thrown out.
Rebecca Friend, Executive Director of the Ohio County Solid Waste Authority, said that the biggest thing to change from last year’s inaugural Earth Day block party was the amount in which it grew–that the community buy—in was greater this year. “Last year we reached out to different vendors convincing them that the work they do is sustainable,” Friend told me. “This year it’s ‘hey, this what we’re doing.”
Friend said that their goal was to get people from different organizations to communicate and collaborate with other groups in the city–to get exhibitors feeling empowered and motivated, not isolated and alone. “We need to mobilize each other,” Friend told me. “There is a community of people in Ohio County who care, and they are proud of their home and their environment. I want people to know there’s hope, and there’s other people fighting to make our home better.”
Sponsors for the Earth Day block party included the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, Liberty Distributors, Republic Services, Kozicki Hughes Tickerhoff, the Wheeling Artisan Center, Wheeling Heritage, and Wheeling Parks and Recreation. Many groups exhibited at the event.
Students and faculty from West Liberty University, joined by James Wood–assistant professor of Ecology, were set up to share the work they do with animals. One student I spoke with told me, “these animals are ambassadors–not pets,” and it was clear by their care and patience with the creatures that they regarded them as animal diplomats rather than spectacles.
Representing the program were many amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Simon, a ball python native to the forests of west and central Africa coiled leisurely around its human-caretaker. Apparently, males live in trees while females choose to borough underground–a form of sexual dimorphism. Another example of this dimorphism is shown in the Madagascar hissing cockroach–males have larger bumps that look like eyes to scare off predators, while females have smaller bumps.
Alongside the animals from other countries, Wood was present to teach about aquatic insects found in our local streams–some of which can build “webs” in the water to filter out their food. Present were craneflies, stoneflies, dragonflies, clams, snails, and crayfish.
Brent Nixon of Lone Stone Designs has spent the last ten years as a full-time jewelry artist. Nixon takes stones and gems and crafts them into beautiful wearables such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, and more. On average—counting the mental blue-printing—his pieces can take anywhere from one to six hours to make. Nixon is excited to sell at Wheeling Heritage’s Spring Handmade Holiday market on May 13, at the Wheeling Artisan Center, as well as vending at the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire, Ohio–Saturdays from 9–12 starting in June.
Colleen Cominsky started her business, Colleen’s Crafty Creations, in 2019. “My whole business started with loofah,” Cominsky said, after her friend gifted her some seeds and she decided to grow them. Since then she has expanded to soaps, lip balms, perfumes, oils, and more. Her favorite products—if she had to choose—would be her soaps with embedded loofahs and her natural deodorants. When asked what vending opportunity she was most excited for, Cominsky quickly responded “Ohio Valley Farmers Market,” in Bellaire, Ohio, Saturdays from 9–12 starting in June. She will also be vending at Wheeling Heritage’s Spring Handmade Holiday market on May 13, at the Wheeling Artisan Center. You can also find her products at Taqueria 304 in downtown Wheeling.
Kara Baum has worked with plants for over ten years now, but started her business—Appalachian Roots Apothecary—just last year. Baum uses medicinal plants, as well as foraged ones, to create teas, salves, essential oils, and more. When asked to pick her favorite product, Baum struggled as she said they were all her favorites. Ultimately, she pointed to her clay masks, which can be used on the face as well as for treating burns and bug bites. Baum also noted her essential oils for body aches and her teas, which she says she can customize for her customers. You can find Appalachian Roots Apothecary at the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire, Ohio, Saturdays from 9–12 starting in June.
Ellen Gano of Volunteer Wheeling was tabling the Earth Day block party seeking volunteers for upcoming events throughout the city. Gano sits on the board of Wheeling Heritage and founded Volunteer Wheeling three years ago. “Wheeling is a lovely city,” Gano told me, adding, “things aren’t always as pretty as we’d hope, but there are things we can do to change that.” She said we cannot wait for companies or corporations to make those changes, “it takes volunteering.” Gano was most excited about FidoFest, which took place on May 6. Volunteer Wheeling is known for their weekly litter cleanup program, but they offer many types of volunteering opportunities in the City of Wheeling.
The Maternal, Infants Health Outreach Worker, or MIHOW, is a group that has served the Ohio County area for 17 years now. They currently have four employees who each see 16-20 families, and operate as a home visiting program supporting kids from prenatal to age three. MIHOW believes that every family has a strength regardless of their situation, and their goal is to teach parents how to turn ordinary household items into educational tools.
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum tabled the event for office hours–a chance for constituents to meet their elected representative and ask questions they may have. Councilor Ketchum told me there are so few opportunities to be with the public outside of attending a City Council, which she notes may cause some people anxiety. “You have to meet people where they are,” Councilor Ketchum said, adding that being as informal as possible is the most effective democratic tool that she has. “Democracy doesn’t just happen twice a month,” Councilor Ketchum said of City Council meetings. “It happens every day.”
HoH Share, Inc, were present at the Earth Day block party in several ways, representing the Mother Jones Center for Resilient Communities, UPLIFT, and the FUNraiser. Kate Marshall told me their center of operations on 14th Street in East Wheeling, known colloquially as the MoJo, started in 2019 to use art and creative practices in the effort of building resilient communities in the Ohio Valley to address all social issues.
Their booth offered lino printing, an area for toys, chess boards from their chess clinics, and issues of the Mustard Seed Mountain–a street paper started in 2021 to be a voice for the poor, working and misunderstood of Wheeling. Marshall said her organization is always excited to attend Earth Day celebrations because “it reminds us of how interconnected we are—and the responsibility we have—with the planet and with each other.”
UPLIFT is a recent addition to the HoH Share, Inc, umbrella, and has advocated for expanding the OVERTA buses to Moundsville—where the closest DMV to Wheeling is. The program pays for people to get copies of their birth certificates, social security card, and to receive an ID. They also seek to educate people on how the bus systems work.
Marshall was excited to share an open house event at the Mother Jones Center for Resilient Communities that was held on April 29, where members of the community were able to enjoy free demonstrations of various art techniques–including screen printing, stained-glass, wreath-making, and shrink-a-dink. You can follow the MoJo and HoH Share, Inc, on Facebook to stay up to date on their upcoming events and classes.
The Men of Change were tabling the event to get the community excited for their upcoming summer events—including bike rides, hikes, yoga, and their annual back-to-school bash. You can read a full length article about the Men of Change on the Hudson Household Editorial. Members of the Men of Change were also educating the community about the local Health, Science and Technology Academy—or HSTA program—which offers high school students mentoring services. The program seeks to support students with financial or social challenges, and offers support in preparing for higher education.
Chair of the Municipal Tree Board Karen Cox was present at the Earth Day block party, days after the City Council of Wheeling codified the board into the City of Wheeling charter and expanded their scope of work. The Municipal Tree Board started in December 2019 by proclamation, and its eleven-member board are appointed by the mayor with the consideration and approval of the council. The board has the power to advise on the type of trees planted, as well and how and where they are planted.
The Municipal Tree Board also helps shape the comprehensive plan for the City of Wheeling, working with the Planning Commission to update codes for new developments to help make the City of Wheeling “Tree City USA.” The group meets on the first Thursday of every month at 11:00 at the Ohio County Public Library. When asked what she wanted the public to know, Chair Cox said that there are people who claim to know how to properly care for trees that are actually butchering them. “If someone offers to ‘shrink your tree,’ don’t believe them.” The process can be detrimental to the tree's health and can cause more costs in the long run.
The Wheeling Creek Watershed Alliance is a new organization with the goal of improving the water quality along Wheeling creek—which drains approximately 300 sq miles in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and flows past many fracking sites, former and current mines, and agricultural sites. The group has five years of chemical analysis of the watershed–gathered by James Wood of West Liberty University. The group meets on the last Thursday, 3:15 PM, of the month at the Water Pollution Control Division.
While many don’t think of them often, the Water Pollution Control Division (WPCD) of Wheeling plays an important role in the City of Wheeling–they process our waste water before it is discharged into the Ohio River. Employees from the WPCD had an interactive booth showing citizens how our wastewater system works. They were also present to inform the public about the dangers of dumping oil down the sink and flushing ‘flushable’ wipes, makeup wipes, paper towels–which cause home sewage lines to backup and fail.
The WPCD facility in Center Wheeling is designed to process 30 to 35 million gallons of wastewater. What many do not know is that the treatment plant processes wastewater from communities as far north as Warwood and Clearview, as far south as Benwood, and as far east as the Highlands. On April 24 the WV Supreme Court of Appeals sided with the City of Wheeling against the City of Benwood and the WV Public Service Commission allowing the city to raise sewer rates—funding desperately needed to modernize the plant.
Dr Darrin Cox—Northern Mountain Party State Executive Committee Representative—was excited to speak with me at the Earth Day block party. Cox said that the Mountain Party—affiliated with the national Green Party—is the “only party in West Virginia that has historically cared about the environment,” citing poor water and air quality in the state. “As long as big corporations fund [major parties] they turn a blind eye to [pollution concerns].
Dr Cox told me that the reception from attendees had been exceptional. He said the party was trying to expand its reach by attending fairs and festivals—including the Back Home Festival, LGBTQ+ events, and Oglebayfest. “The people here are picking up what we’re putting down.” The Mountain Party meets for rotating meetings between Weirton, Wellsburg, and Wheeling, and you can visit the Northern West Virginia Mountain Party Facebook page for more information. Cox finished by saying, “you don’t have to vote for the lesser of two evils anymore.”
Mike Rafa of the Ohio County Virtual Lions Club was excited to speak about the success the group has seen in its short three years of active service. Rafa taught biology and earth science for 40 years and said he joined the OC Virtual Lions Club to make a difference. One of the main goals of the Lions International is environmental stewardship. In their efforts, the group has stopped 21,000 lbs of plastic trash from entering landfills, turning them into benches instead. “If you think you can’t make a difference–you’re wrong,” Rafa said. You can check the OC Virtual Lions out on Facebook, and at the Warwood Farmers Market.
The April 22 Earth Day block party was a major success; thank you to those involved in planning and exhibiting at the event. This event is an example of the good that can happen in our state of West Virginia. If we wait for governments or corporations to make changes we’re failing ourselves. We, the people of this state, have the power to effect change in amazing ways.
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