Each year, Earth Day—April 22—marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.  The resulting swell of outrage and concern gave rise to the first Earth Day, as well as to the creation of the Community Environmental Council – one of the most established environmental organizations in the region, and the host of Santa Barbara’s annual Earth Day Festival. (Who we are fortunate enough to have with us this year!) On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies: Earth Day was born


The first Earth Day in the Santa Ynez Valley began with a mom who realized their were no Earth Day events to celebrate this wonderful day. Karen Palmer, organized the first Earth Day in Los Olivos Park where only two families showed up. This planted the seed and the following year Karen knew she needed help. The second Earth Day grew and more people became involved and a lot more people attended; as it grew Karen knew it was time to find a larger location. She partnered with City of Solvang and the following year was co-sponsored by City Of Solvang. For many years Earth Day was hosted in Solvang park, and each year, the event grew. Once again it was time to upscale the venue; Eva Powers of Santa Ynez Valley Botanic garden reached out and asked if Earth Day could be celebrated at the Botanic Garden. Eva then reached out to City of Buellton, and Santa  Ynez Valley Earth Day found it's perfect home in Riverview park. The beautiful seed that was planted 15 years ago took root and flourished; as it grew the event received more and more community support. In 2016, the event hosted around 2000 attendees and participants.

Environmental activism

On the first anniversary of the oil spill in SB, activists hosted a national conference at Santa Barbara City College, with speakers that included notable environmentalists Paul Ehrlich and David Brower, political leaders Sen. Alan Cranston, Rep. Pete McCloskey and former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, as well as Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day observances planned for later that year.

The ripples of that conference – in which the community began to channel its outrage, concern, and hopes for a better future – can still be felt today. One of these was the formation of the Community Environmental Council (CEC), whose first order of business was to open an ecology center on the corner of State and Anapamu in Santa Barbara, close down the street out front, and host one of the first Earth Day celebrations in the country on April 22, 1970. What the CEC has accomplished in Santa Barbara is nothing short of astounding. This year, we have the pleasure of having their help with our event as well. We are so grateful for all they do, so be sure to stop by their booth and say hello to their team!

The Earth Day Festival SB Was Born

“The festival itself was modest, with maybe 5,000 people. But when taken collectively, it turned out to be the world’s largest event – cities everywhere participated that day,” said former CEC Executive Director Paul Relis, who co-directed the organization in its early years with former Santa Barbara mayor Hal Conklin.

The annual event continued on and off thru the 1970s, waned in the 1980s, and then was revitalized in 1990 when Denis Hayes called for a recommitment to a national day of recognition for the environment. Karen Feeney led an effort to re-spark the gathering with a 20th anniversary bash at Santa Barbara City College, and Earth Day has now been held consistently, and with increasing attendance, by the CEC ever since.