MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — On April 22, Earth Day commemorated the modern environmental movement that began in 1970. Wild Earth Fest, on April 24, celebrated Earth Day as well as the anniversary of Trailside Nature and Science Center, in Mountainside. This year marked 75 years for the first nature center in New Jersey.
It was a beautiful spring day as people from all around New Jersey came to admire the natural environment at Trailside. Upon entering the event, a large grey wolf named Tecomah represented a nonprofit organization called Wolf Visions. The purpose of the organization is dedicated to education, preservation and restoration of wolves. The wolf appeared very friendly and placid, making visitors question their stereotypical ideas about the big bad wolf. Wolf Vision’s motto is, “Little Red Riding Hood lied.”
“Tecomah is a four-year-old female wolf,” said Wolf Visions member Mike Depew, of Andover. “She’s a social creature, but she’s not domesticated.”
“I’ve been involved with Wolf Visions for 30 years,” said Vinnie Reo, of Sussex. “This is a great place, and we’ve done the Wild Earth Fest every year for the past 20 years.”
“We’ve even brought Tecomah to senior homes,” added Depew. “She’s a sweet wolf.”
Reo handed Tecomah pieces of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She enjoyed it very much, but the members of Wolf Visions claimed her favorite food is pizza. The organization made visitors aware that the wolf isn’t nearly the scariest predator in the woods.
Winners from this year’s Wildlife Photography Contest were announced at the event. First place went to George Valladares, of Clark, for his photo “Carolina Wren;” second place went to Thomas Shealey, of Winfield Park, for his photo “Red Fox;” and third place went to Kerstin Batke, of Mountainside, for her photo “Green Sea Turtle.” The honorable mentions included Natalie Gregano, of Elizabeth, for her photo “Peregrine Falcon;” Kenny Ilgavizis, of Mountainside, for his photo “Rock Squirrel;” and Thomas Lynangh, of Kenilworth, for his photo “Double Crested Cormorant.”
Master Gardeners of Union County introduced visitors to the new greenhouse in which vegetables were growing to be donated to food banks in the area. Some of the vegetables include tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. They were even growing cotton to donate to the historic Miller-Cory House in Westfield. No pesticides are used in the vegetable gardens.
“Climate changes have allowed us to grow things we were never able to grow in the past,” said Kenny Ilgavizis, of Mountainside, a volunteer for Master Gardeners of Union County. “We do a lot for many different organizations.”
The master gardeners planted three rain gardens that enable rainwater to be absorbed into the soil, rather than cause any flooding issues. They also planted cutting gardens of flowers that are donated to places such as Overlook Hospital to brighten patients’ days. A variety of herb gardens are planted by the gazebo.
Union County Mosquito Control was at the event to educate the public about the dangers of mosquitoes, such as the spread of West Nile Virus. They also provided tips as to how to prevent mosquitos from infesting the area and how to treat mosquito bites. The members of the organization handed out fly swatters to guests as they arrived.
The day was full of fun and games for children in addition, to a live performance from New Jersey’s classic rock cover band The Nerds. The event was educational and offered something for people of all ages. The importance of wildlife preservation was the theme of the day, and visitors were able to get a closer look at creatures living in the wild.