By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
Crocodiles will show their teeth and lady bugs will crawl free when Pasco County celebrates Earth Day April 24 at Crews Lake Park in Spring Hill.
The free event is sponsored by Pasco County Parks and Recreation and Covanta Pasco.“We want to keep people informed about what they can do to protect the environment, said Lottie Kelley, public relations coordinator for Covanta.
Covanta, a waste to energy plant, has sponsored the event since it began 14 years ago. This year, people can stop by a variety of educational booths to learn about recycling, Florida wildlife and reusable energy. There will be information on conservation and green living. Kids can work on earth-friendly craft projects and plant vegetable seeds.
“It’s important to raise awareness about the effect each individual has on the environment,” said Jennifer Seney, recycling coordinator for Pasco County. “From how we take care of our yards to how we dispose of our trash, each of us has an impact.”
Seney said recycling in Pasco County is up 3% from last year. She credits the increase to the growing popularity of the green movement.
“There’s a political revolution in that area and there’s been a renewed interest in recycling in our neck of the woods,” she said. “The participation rate is up.”
Earth Day at Crews Lake is a litter free recycled event, so the county will have recycling containers stationed throughout the park.
People are encouraged to bring their recyclable items, including those containing mercury such as thermostats and thermometers to exchange for a $5 gift card from Covanta.
“Mercury is extremely poisonous to the environment so it needs to be kept out of the waste system,” Kelley said. “At last year’s event, we collected 60 pounds of mercury.”
About 1,200 people attended last year. Even more are expected to fill the park this weekend. People can picnic and spend the entire day.
“There are very few big Earth-Day events any more so we have a lot of people come from throughout the county,” Kelley said.
One of the event’s biggest draws is the opportunity for children to interact with live reptiles and insects.
Croc Encounters of Tampa will have a 10-foot alligator named Spike on display. Volunteers will walk around with smaller alligators, snakes and lizards for children to touch and see up close.
All 400 pounds of Spike will stay safely inside a steel metal cage.
“It’s an opportunity to educate people about reptiles and to collect funds for our organization because we are 100 percent nonprofit,” said Karina Sura Paner, co-director for Croc Encounters.
Children can also participate in a ladybug release sponsored by Covanta. Each child is invited to release one little lady into the wild.
“Everything at the event is geared toward children and families,” Kelley said. “We want the children to go home having learned something valuable about conservation.”
The Pasco County Cooperative Extension will have master gardeners on site to field questions from visitors. The extension will also have a rain barrel workshop where visitors will make their own rain barrels.
“Collecting rainwater is good because the water isn’t regulated and you can use it when you need it,” said B.J. Jarvis, county extension director.
Earth Day is special to Jarvis.
“It’s a day to remember mother earth and the many things the land does for us,” she said. “An event like Crews Lake helps us refocus on those things.”
Kelley hopes people who attend the event will leave with a better understanding of what it really means to live green. She said there are many ways to help preserve the natural environment. Most are simple and easy.
“People can take reusable bags to do all their shopping,” Kelley said. “They can properly dispose of things like light bulbs and electronics. They can recycle their glass bottles and aluminum cans.”
Jarvis said saving the earth is about the little things.
“If each one of us would just do a couple things each day, it can make a world of difference,” she said.
Organizations scheduled to celebrate Earth Day at Crews Lake include Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Aquarium, Florida Native Plant Society, Pasco County Extension master gardeners and many more. For information, visit www.pascocountyfl.net.
Crews Lake Park is located at 16739 Crews Lake Dr. in Spring Hill.