Going Green: Wedding Celebration With a Helpful Twist

Going Green: Wedding Celebration With a Helpful Twist

An environmentally conscientious couple creates a bohemian fairy garden wedding that’s kind to the planet.

How did they do it? First, it takes two multi-talented individuals, such as the bride and groom, Taylor and Nick. Both grew up learning and caring about our environment from family, education, and activities such as scouting, horse care, and stable management. Their knowledge, expertise, and outdoor experiences include working as whitewater rafting guides, ski/snowboard patrollers, protecting and managing natural resources through the conservation core, and providing community medical care. They are both highly conscientious of the importance of conservation, preservation, and sustainability in our waterways and land. 

Planning a dream wedding that was kind to the planet was a priority. 

Together they created a plan to use sustainable resources which could be recycled, reused, repurposed, and composted. They recruited family and friends to help make their dream wedding come true.   

From the flowers to the furnishings and food, Taylor and Nick carefully planned every aspect of the wedding to be sustainable and beautiful.

The planning began approximately a year and a half in advance when the bride’s mother planted a perennial wildflower pollinating garden where the ceremony would take place. This garden, located in scenic central Pennsylvania, required tilling by the bride’s stepfather as it is a rock garden. Wildflowers seeds, including Coreopsis, Cosmos, Brown-Eyed Susans, Indian Blanket, Evening Primrose, Eastern Columbine, and Coneflower, provided pollen, nectar, and shelter for hundreds of important species, namely Monarch butterflies, native bees, and insects such as grasshoppers.

The couple collected five used living room furniture sets and rugs for the reception from various estate and yard sales.

The accessories to complete the rooms were purchased, rented, or borrowed from family members and friends. The married couple sold the living room furniture pieces to those interested in purchasing them after the celebration.

Local Book Store
Local Book Store

Taylor and Nick rented large tents to add shelter in inclement weather. 

Rustic tables, chairs, narrow table runners, chandeliers, and other accessories were also rented from local vendors such as Rustic Event Rentals. The owner, Holly Mitchell, had a vision after she married in 2016 to rent sustainable collected pieces reasonably priced for special events such as this. An assortment of clear, green, and brown bottles was saved and used to hold candles, wildflowers, and ferns. These bottles will be recycled, reused, or repurposed for future events. Finally, the moss, pine fir, pinecones, ferns, and wildflowers were all returned to the forest or wildflower garden.

The ceremony took place at dusk when the summer sky was illuminated with hues of various shades of blue, pink, orange, yellow, and white.

The wildflowers and vibrant sky were the backdrops for the wedding photographs. As part of the ceremony, the couple planted an Eastern Hemlock Spruce tree, an evergreen tree native to eastern North America, and the Pennsylvania state tree.

The wedding food consisted of beautiful handmade charcuterie boards handcrafted by Proudfit-Made. Each platter featured fresh and dried fruit, vegetables, nuts, assorted cheeses, jams, and crackers. Family and friends contributed with warm hors d’oeuvres, cookies of all kinds, and a full bar with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The homemade red velvet naked cake, baked by the groom and decorated by an aunt, was beautifully decorated with freshly washed and dried ferns. The tiered cookie and cake stand, wooden plates, bar, and wooden mountains with fairy lights were handcrafted by the groom and later given to those interested who attended the celebration.  

Bamboo plates, utensils, and napkins were all compostable.

Individual drinking glasses were provided so guests could write their names on them, making it easy to identify them. These glasses and cookies were part of their takeaway gift. Recycle bins were placed discretely throughout, and nearly all the trash collected could be recycled.

Why would this couple go to this extent of creating such a venue? Because they care about our environment and are passionate about conservation, preservation, and sustainability with our planet’s future and its inhabitants in mind. Congratulations to this beautiful couple, Taylor and Nick, on a creative, well-thought-out, green (in more ways than one) wedding celebration for all who attended to remember.

Movement of the Monarch: The Importance of Pollinators

Movement of the Monarch: The Importance of Pollinators

Each year the Monarch Butterflies migrate through North America to/from the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt in Mexico (which is protected by the Mexican government). According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do.” 

 These butterflies are pollinators, and they play a crucial role in the health of our ecosystem as they carry pollen from flower to flower aiding in plant reproduction. The Monarch Butterfly appears to love a variety of milkweed common with mauve flowers, pink swamp, and butterfly milkweed.

 Unfortunately, the population of Monarch butterflies has been declining for several reasons: 

  • Commercial and residential development has destroyed suitable summer habitats; there are simply not enough milkweed plants for the 700 eggs and babies to lay.   
  • With a short supply of plants, these butterflies will lay their eggs wherever is available, and a high population in one area is a huge problem as they are attacked by flies, wasp predators, and disease.  
  • Climate change is another major problem as monitoring the past 3-10 years weather patterns have demonstrated heavy rains and freezing temperatures causing massive mortality of 50 to 80 percent of the population.

The good news is that Monarch Way Stations have been created to conserve and protect the declining Monarch Butterfly population throughout their journey. 

 These stations, gardens, and meadows provide milkweed, nectar sources, and shelter. It is wonderful to witness the amount of attention around how important our pollinators are to our ecosystem. No matter what roadside milkweed bank, meadow, garden, or park is visited, we are fortunate to witness some amazing beautiful butterflies.

 What can you do as an individual to aid in creating a habitat which would enable pollinators to thrive and multiply?  The American dream of a yard looking like a highly manicured golf course has been the demise of many pollinators. Try creating a space in your backyard devoted to native plants that bloom from spring to autumn; it may look a little messy but will support a home for a host of pollinators. The beauty is two-fold: these native wildflowers will reseed themselves, becoming a low-maintenance garden where there is not only beauty amongst the flowers, but the attractions of butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds, and birds. 

 As volunteers, members of citizen science, getting involved is so easy as there are numerous programs for all ages to participate include counting, tagging, and releasing monarch butterflies through the North American Butterfly Association, sponsored walks, home ecologists children’s programs, national, state, county, and city parks throughout our nation.  

 I was so excited when the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) offered me an opportunity to release a third-generation monarch who will fly and make its way to Mexico.  Wishing you a safe journey. Fly baby fly!


Wildflowers are Essential to a Healthy Ecosystem

Wildflowers are Essential to a Healthy Ecosystem

We love wildflowers for a variety of reasons. The vision of beautiful bright colors displayed in natural floral arrangements catches our eyes, whether in meadows in the countryside, vacant lots in the city, or beyond human-dominated areas such as forests, wetlands, and seascapes. However, there is so much more that wildflowers provide besides their beauty. Wildflowers are an essential part of our ecosystem. 

What do wildflowers benefit?

Colorful wildflowers attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. They enjoy the nectar and collect pollen on their bodies as they move from one plant to another. That pollen dusted on their bodies pollinates the new plants they visit. For humans, this is extremely important as pollen is essential for plant production in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Wildflowers provide food for birds, insects, and other animals. In addition, they create natural habitats, nesting areas for birds, and shelter for small mammals, insects, amphibians, and protection from other animals.

What is the significance of wildflowers?

For centuries, native wildflowers (plants here before European settlement) have been foraged for tea and food recipes, medicinal purposes, ceremonies, symbolism, stories, ink, and in some instances, as a currency. In A Naturalist’s Book of Wildflowers, author Laura C. Martin states, “The indigenous people of North America found medicines in the woods and fields, plains, and deserts where they lived.” Amid our days of modern medicine, several wildflowers have been shown in studies to be complementary health resources found in teas, essential oils, and tinctures. Always do your research with these resources before experimenting.

Are wildflowers thriving in today’s environment?

Some varieties are in trouble. Common milkweed, a wildflower that is an important food source for Monarch butterflies, is in decline. As a result, our migratory monarch butterfly has recently been placed on the (IUCN) endangered red list. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states, “Native populations, known for migrating from Mexico and California in the winter to summer breeding grounds, have shrunk by 22% and 72% over the past decade. Pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture kill butterflies and milkweed, the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly on which they feed.”

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

Non-native invasive species known as exotics are wild plants brought here to North America for their beauty or by accident. Unfortunately, they are not only out-competing and smothering our native wildflowers, but invasive plants also secrete chemicals into the ground, prohibiting the growth of native wildflowers. Plants such as Japanese knotweed, oriental bittersweet, and garlic mustard are just a few to mention.

Where can we buy wildflowers?

As the spring, summer, and fall seasons progress, we notice not only the change in colors and variations of the types of wildflowers but the variety of species that catch our eyes and ears. They lead us to want to learn and know more about them and how we can do our part to protect them by creating our unique wildflower garden, be it in a pot or plot. Wildflowers can be purchased through your local conservation resources and online.

Saratoga Springs Stoked My Love Affair with Water

Saratoga Springs Stoked My Love Affair with Water

On a recent visit to Saratoga Springs, I learned the extensive history of the area’s natural mineral springs created millions of years ago. It stoked my longtime fascination with water. My love affair with water started in my youth, growing up in upstate New York.

I grew up on the shores of Oneida Lake in upstate New York, surrounded by water in every form. In the summer, the Verona Beach State Park and Sylvan Beach beaches were a haven to enjoy and have fun. In the winter, the snow piled so deep that, at times, we had to climb out of the front window just to remove the snow from the front door so we could open it. On the lake, where the ice was so thick, people drove their vehicles out to their ice fishing huts.

Growing up surrounded by an abundance of water, I was perplexed when I heard a neighbor say that we would be paying for water one day. Why?

It was the 1970s, and any thoughts of climate change were overshadowed by worries of the technological era of spaceship launches. Nuclear explosions were at the forefront of the news and collective thought processes.

Natural Spring Water
As we have learned from hydrology experts, water is not a commodity that should be taken lightly or for granted as it is limited by nature.

According to the National Ground Water Association (NGWA), “The earth has an abundance of water, but unfortunately, only a small percentage (about 0.3 percent) is even usable by humans. The other 99.7 percent is in the oceans, soils, icecaps, and floating in the atmosphere. Still, much of the 0.3 percent that is usable is unattainable. Most of the water used by humans comes from rivers.”

The freshwater supply in Saratoga Springs is a national treasure. Natural mineral springs were created at the Saratoga Fault.

This geologic fault provided the break in shale layers to enable underground streams and a combination of gases and minerals to escape and rise to the surface as natural mineral springs. Water’s taste is impacted by the concentration of minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, as well as many electrolytes.

The Mohawk Indians discovered the “healing” springs and believed the water to be a gift from the god Manitou. Introduced in the late 1700s to early settlers, believers of the proclaimed restorative water would later discover several more natural springs. By 1826, bottled water from these springs would be shipped worldwide.

The Saratoga Springs State Park buildings were built in the early 1930s and retain their original exterior appearance, with much of their architectural detailing intact.

The bottling plant was built in 1935. Mineral spring water from three different springs, Geyser, Coesa, and Hathorn, was bottled in iconic cobalt blue bottles and sold in the US and Canada. The coloring of the bottle came about as mineral spring water was once considered a healing tincture. It was fascinating to learn that the plant was in operation until the 1970s, when the New York state-run mineral water bottling plant closed because, at the time, the market for bottled water and, in particular, carbonated water was not popular. It is now the Saratoga Auto Museum, housing many antique cars.

Saratoga Springs Mineral Water bottling company has been in business for approximately 149 years, bottling the nation’s oldest natural and carbonated spring water. The day would not be complete without trying some refreshing natural cold spring mineral water. Carbonated mineral water is deliciously bubbly, refreshing, and has no calories. Like people throughout history, my taste buds recognized this was special water. It reminded me of champagne or Prosecco without the alcohol.

The Mineral Water Bottling Plant

The Mineral Water Bottling Plant

The Mineral Water Bottling Plant was Constructed in 1935 and in operation until the 1970s. It may be hard to believe now, but miscalculation and disbelief that bottled water would never become a successful business enterprise led to its closure. It is now the Saratoga Auto Museum, housing many antique cars.

State Seal Springs Geyser Spring

State Seal Springs Geyser Spring

As a part of the Clean Water and Air Act, the water originally bottled at the Bottling plant was rerouted to this Joseph L. Bruno Pavilion, where the public continues to bottle water from the spring today. This water was so refreshing, cold, and delicious. I wished that I had brought another bottle to fill up. For the courtesy of others who are partaking in bottling water, there is a limit of no more than two five-gallon containers.

Next, we visited the beautiful Hall of Springs and Reflecting Pool.

Constructed in the early 1930s and proclaimed one of the most beautiful buildings in America, the Hall signified the prominent beginning of spa development. With gratitude to President Franklin Roosevelt for preserving the Saratoga Springs Mineral Water area, bathhouses such as the Lincoln Bath House and Roosevelt Baths were created to protect and promote bathing in tempered effervescent mineral water. Known widely as “taking the cure” (associated with tension relief, rejuvenation, assumed healing, and medicinal benefits naturally), mineral water from the Geyser, Hathorn, and Coesa Springs was piped in for visitors to consume while walking or listening to live orchestra music.

Hall of Springs and Reflecting Pool

Hall of Springs and Reflecting Pool

Hall of Springs and Reflecting Pool Circa early 1930s. This building signified the marked beginning of the spa development benefitting the mind and the body. 

With its story-filled buildings, rich history, and delicious mineral spring water, it’s no wonder why guests feel great after their Saratoga Springs visit. I will be back to partake in a mineral bath, a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and once again stoke my love affair with water.

To learn more about Saratoga Springs’ History, visit discoversaratoga.org.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

Environmental Conservation of Our Waterways is Key to Sustainability

Environmental Conservation of Our Waterways is Key to Sustainability

Environmental conservation of our waterways and land in the United States is key to sustainability. Conservation organizations, landowners, and volunteers spend hours working together to preserve and maintain our waterways’ natural beauty and health. These organizations and their volunteers work to remove a wide variety of inorganic items from waterways, including tires, household appliances, plastics, clothing, glass, and cement blocks. In addition, they work to restore and maintain riparian buffer zones, strips of grasslands, forested areas, wetlands, and farmlands that provide shade and protection along the waterways tract to help enhance water quality. Their actions restore many of our creeks and rivers to their natural beauty and bring them back to life.

One of these organizations is the French Creek Valley Conservancy.

Established in 1982 is the Conneaut Lake-French Creek Conservancy and now named the French Creek Valley Conservancy, concerned citizens formed it to address serious issues facing these important Pennsylvania waterways. French Creek feeds into Conneaut Lake, which is Pennsylvania’s largest lake. Conneaut Lake is an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about the same distance when traveling east from Cleveland, Ohio.

Our waterways offer abundant outdoor recreation activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, and watching birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and invertebrates in their natural habitats.

Unfortunately, some of these waters are becoming unsuitable for recreation or wildlife habitat. Pollution from raw sewage, stormwater runoff, trash, mine drainage, and industrial chemicals such as herbicides for weed control make these bodies of water unfit for recreation and supporting wildlife species.

On a recent canoe paddling day trip along French Creek, we learned that this waterway is nationally recognized as one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the United States.

We were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring above us when we slid our canoe into the water. We knew immediately that this nine-mile adventure would be unique and special. We didn’t think we would see more of these majestic eagles as we floated along the creek.

French Creek is alive with bird songs from migrating birds.

With the help of the Merlin Bird App, we identified over 40 birds. If you are a birder, you would be in awe of the 379 species of birds that make this great creek their home. For many birds, it is year-round.

The banks of the streams and rivers flourish with several hues of greenery from various ferns, maple, oak, walnut, spruce, wild flowering apple trees in full bloom, and several types of shrubs. Some of the trees appear to be hundreds of years old. With bank erosion from heavy rains and flooding, you can see how high the water once was. As we continued our paddle, we took note of the massive roots on many of the trees exposed on the eroded creek banks. We were amazed that the trees didn’t topple over from the excessive weight above the ground. Native and non-native spring ephemerals such as Dame’s Rocket, Philadelphia Fleabane, Wild Geraniums, Golden Alexander, Common Milkweed, Yellow Buttercups, Violets in purple, white, and yellow colors, Columbine, Sweet Cicely, Purple Crown Vetch, and invasive Japanese Knotweed are just some of the plants we identified along the way.

French Creek has abundant wildlife, as we witnessed firsthand.  We spotted freshwater mussels, amphibians, reptiles, fish, Tiger Swallow Butterflies, and Red-spotted Butterflies, among other species.

According to the French Creek Valley Conservancy, “the French Creek watershed contains over 80 species of fish and 27 of Pennsylvania’s approximately 65 species of native freshwater mussels, including threatened and endangered, the most diverse population of any stream in the state and any stream further north and east in the nation. Mussels require clean, oxygen-rich water to filter food and absorb dissolved oxygen. In the microscopic larval stage, they often attach to fish gills such as darters and are transported to different sites on the stream. As a result, their distribution and number are directly linked to the host fish’s survival.”

To learn more about waterways near you, visit your local water conservation organization and federal, state, and local parks.

These organizations support aquatic science, riparian plantings, aquatic connectivity and species passage, safety on the waterways, canoe/kayak access development, watershed grant programs, and additional resources to inspire you to get involved.

Let us take action to joyfully preserve and sustain our natural world and its inhabitants for future generations. Download our One Planet Life app to access other insightful posts, resources, and organizations that you can participate in and track your actions.

We Should Never Take Water for Granted. Especially Now.

We Should Never Take Water for Granted. Especially Now.

Two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules create the mercurial substance that sustains all life. It is the only natural substance found in all three physical states at temperatures that occur on earth. We experience water as a liquid in rivers, lakes, and oceans, a solid in snow and ice, and a gas in clouds and streams. We are from the water, and it brings us joy. And yet, we take water for granted. 

With a turn of a knob, water runs freely from the faucet. Clear water flows as if there is an endless amount. Unfortunately, this is an illusion. We have been lulled into a falsehood. Water is both a subtle presence in our daily lives and a powerful force causing harm. Water can harm when there is too much, too little, or when it is polluted. The increasingly intense weather patterns have brought damaging floods, droughts, and polar winter weather. Polluted waterways are harming wildlife around the world.

Water risks are a major humanitarian and environmental threat.

Let’s explore the threats in three dimensions: 1) water access, 2) water stress, and 3) water for wildlife. It is time to open our eyes, understand the water situation in our world, change our relationship with water, and take sustained action.  

Water Access – One-in-four people do not have access to safe water.  Our bodies are 50% water. We can only survive three days without drinkable water. In developed countries, clean water is transported to our homes, businesses, and farms at a minimal cost. Because of this seemingly easy accessibility, we get the sense that there is an abundant amount and that everyone has equal access. False. 

Only 74% of the world has access to safely managed water A shocking 26% — nearly 2 billion people do not have access to safely managed water.
    OPL App Images

    Of these 2 billion, over 1 billion have a 30-minute trip to collect drinking water. The remaining people do not have access to any safe drinking water. Depending on where you live, and your income, your access to water can be vastly different. 

    To better understand the inequity of water access, refer to CHART 1: Income Impact to Access to Clean Water and CHART 2: Water Accessibility by World Region

    Water Stress:  Freshwater is being used faster than it is being replaced.  

    About 70% of all people live within 3 miles of the closest water feature. Water is part of every aspect of our life, including our health, industry, agriculture, and energy production. Each person uses on average 1004 gallons of water a day. We use 70% of the world’s water annually for agriculture. The United States uses a large amount of water for industry (18.2 billion gallons per day) and energy production (58 trillion gallons of water per year). We are drawing down too much fresh water between individual, agricultural, and energy production use. There are ways to perform these activities with much less water, yet we continue to use unsustainable amounts of water year after year. 

    It takes hundreds of years to replenish groundwater.

    Climate change worsens the problem by intensifying floods and drought, shifting precipitation patterns, altering water supplies, and accelerating glacial melt and sea-level rise. Already 17 countries (refer to CHART 3) are facing extremely high water stress as their agriculture, industry, and communities use up to 80 percent of the available surface and groundwater each year. Even in countries such as the United States with overall low-medium water stress, some communities are still experiencing highly stressed conditions. The people of New Mexico have as much water stress as some of the most stressed countries. Another four states (Colorado, Arizona, California, and Nebraska) are at high risk and using 40-80% of the available water. When water demand overwhelms supply, there are dire consequences.  

    Over 50 million Americans live with some amount of water stress today.


    CHART 3

    Water for Wildlife – Nature needs water and is really good at taking carbon out of the atmosphere. 

    Wildlife needs water to survive. By letting the byproducts of our daily lives pollute waterways, we are participating in the alarming decline of wildlife globally. Unintentionally we destroy the network of life. 

    Peter Wohlleben beautifully explains this in his book, The Secret Network of Nature. (Read our review.) Did you know that trees and bears can rely on the nutrients of salmon? Along rivers with low nutrient soil, the salmon swim upriver to spawn while hungry bears and other hunters haul in a meal. When the salmon die, they deposit a wealth of nutrients. Up to 70% of the nitrogen in vegetation growing alongside these streams comes from salmon. In addition, the data shows that Sitka spruce in these areas grow up to three times faster than it would without this natural fertilizer. It is all connected, the water, the salmon, the bears, and the trees. When we block or pollute rivers, we disrupt the network of life. 

    The Secret Network of Nature

    Our waterways and oceans are dumping grounds. Since 1950, 8.3 million tonnes of plastic containers have been produced. Only 9% gets recycled, and the rest ends up in our landfills and litters our land and waterways. Plastic is problematic in many ways. It degrades slowly; lightweight bags are eaten by livestock and wildlife, and plastic bags are among the most common types of marine litter. At our current pace, oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050. We need to protect and expand natural places.

    Some of the best solutions to our water problem are nature-based solutions. These include restoration of coastal seagrass, regenerative agriculture, and protecting and expanding forests and natural areas. Reducing pollution, protecting natural areas around waterways, and increasing natural habits benefits all life. 

    Read our blog, It is Time to Love, Care For, and Share our Water, to learn small joyful changes you can make to save water.

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