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The golden rays of summer soon will reflect off the Cape Fear River, and the multitudes of unique plants found locally already have begun to bloom. The picturesque sandy shores of Wrightsville and Carolina beaches, and the onslaught of outdoor activities found around the region, annually excite tourists and locals alike. April has long been associated with the thawing of land and the emergence of natural splendor, but since 1970, it also has been a time to revel in honoring and preserving what Mother Nature has bestowed.

butterflies on verbena

Above: The butterfly exhibit at Airlie Gardens. Photo, courtesy Airlie Gardens

Though San Francisco peace activist John McConnell first introduced a day to celebrate the Earth on March 21, 1970 (the first day of spring), a separate national observance was set in stone for April 22 the same year by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. Earth Day has grown to be recognized nationally since 1990, wherein communities throw celebrations to educate and discuss how to properly preserve our environment. With hot-button topics like fracking taking the forefront in NC’s political sphere and so much natural wonder to be found around our own coastline, it’s no surprise there will be notable events occurring in conjunction with Earth Day 2015 in the Cape Fear. Folks can enjoy an outdoor jubilee hosted by the Earth Day Alliance or an enchanting trip to Airlie for some yoga and to commence the reopening of the garden’s state-of-the-art butterfly exhibit. Here’s a glimpse at what to expect:

Wilmington Earth Day Celebration
Hugh MacRae Park, 1799 S. College Rd.
Saturday, April 25, noon; Tickets: Free

Formed in December 1989 by local conservationist Andy Wood, Earth Day Alliance of the Lower Cape Fear puts on an annual extravaganza, complete with vendors and musicians. What started as a small event has grown to incorporate upward of 50 vendors that draw crowds of 4,000 to 5,000 people.

Each year the festival takes on a theme, and this year the event will take note of the importance of soil. Titled “Life Starts From the Ground Up,” the mantra comes in conjunction with the Food and Agriculutre Organization’s dubbing of 2015 as the “International Year of Soils.”

“Many people think of soil as just dirt, but in reality it’s so much more,” Elissa Riley, current chair of the Wilmington Earth Day Alliance, says. “Soil is the basis for life and is a living, breathing, natural resource. Without it, life would cease to exist. Our exhibitors show how their organization ties in with the theme by educating attendees on their connection to the Earth.”

Several will be distributing trees, a natural stabilizer for soil. Other participants will inform on their efforts to stray away from fossil fuels, or detail the relationship between estuaries and soil. Area environmental concerns extend well beyond soil: water quality, marine life, the preservation of wildlife are just a few other issues covered. Local waterways are marred by non-point source pollutants, carried by vehicles like stormwater runoff.

“Many local groups are working hard to protect our soil from eroding and our waterways from becoming polluted, and I welcome everyone to come out next Saturday to the festival to learn more about local efforts,” Riley comments.

Though informative, the event will be fun, too.  Live music will play thanks to T.O.M.D. (They’re Only Mostly Dead), Mr. Marks Music, Boba Funk, and Groove Fetish. Performances will occur throughout the afternoon, while festival-goers peruse a host of vendors offering sips and nibbles. Meanwhile, the Kids’ EcoZone Area will occupy youngsters’ minds, and there will be a Green Market Tent full of local vendors’ bio-friendly products.

“We want to provide an event where locals can bring their family and friends and talk one-on-one with exhibitors—the majority whom have a direct connection to our local environment,” Riley expresses. “The festival is a great way for people to gain a better understanding of what’s going on here, and it’s set up in a way so that the atmosphere is relaxed and carefree.”

In addition, the celebration raises monies for Earth Day Alliance. A percentage of food and beverage sales goes toward the nonprofit, along with monies raised from raffle ticket sales. Attendees can be entereted into a drawing to win items like a Hurricane Kayak, a custom-made surfboard, Freakers, private pottery lessons from Pineapple Studios, cleaning from EcoMaids, and more.

The festival will prevail come rain or shine (after all, rain is part of Earth’s sustainability). In order to keep traffic flow down, a Wave Transit shuttle will take folks from the old Cinema 6 parking lot beside Tidal Creek (on Oleander) to Hugh MacRae from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Airlie Gardens Earth Day Celebration
Airlie Gardens, 300 Airlie Rd.
Wednesday, April 22
Yoga: 8 a.m.; Tickets: $10-$15
Butterfly House Opening: 4 p.m.
Tickets: $3-$9

Airlie Gardens celebrates nature yearround, with an expansive array of scenery. The local nature hub houses a plethora of exhibits, the centuries-old Airlie Oak, wildlife, and acres on acres of freshwater lakes.

Folks can get an early start on Earth Day with a morning of yoga on the Oak Lawn. The one-hour class, which will take place from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., is open-to-the-public. Tickets are $10 for Airlie members and $15 for nonmembers. A portion of the proceeds will go toward Airlie Gardens. This will be the first year Airlie is holding a yoga session. It will be headed by Longwave Yoga instructor Lexi Paulos and tailored for people of any experience level.

“We thought Airlie would be a beautiful place for those who practice yoga to escape the confines of their studio and be outside in nature,” Nicole Herron, administrative technician for weddings and events, says. “I met Lexi at a trade show event at Blockade Runner and we connected on the idea.”

The gardens also will debut the opening of Airlie’s seasonal butterfly exhibit, which will be viewable through October. They anticipate the release of 25 butterflies (or however many have emerged from their chrysalis) into the Butterfly House. The commencement will take place at 4 p.m. and will be preceded by an informative discussion led by Jennifer O’Keefe, who will offer up facts about the life cycle of butterflies and the many variations within the species.

“In regards to butterflies, the biggest issue is probably habitat loss,” O’Keefe shares. “Adult butterflies need specific larval host plants so that they can lay their eggs. Some butterflies will lay eggs on a variety of plants, but some will only lay their eggs on one particular plant. Planting native larval host plants is important for butterflies. Nectar plants are great, but the plants that caterpillars eat are critical to their survival. For example, gulf fritillary butterflies only lay eggs on the passionflower vine, and monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed.”

The event is included in Airlie’s general admission price ($3 for children, $5 for military members and New Hanover County residents, $9 for adults). Anyone who attends morning yoga will be admitted at no additional cost with the presentation of their yoga sticker.

“We want people to come out in celebration of Earth Day, enjoy the great outdoors, get in some fun exercise, and learn about the butterflies and environment we live in,” Herron says.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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