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Canal transplant (copy)

Portage High School student Abbagail Harkner engages in some dirty work -- splitting and transplanting day lilies in the Pauquette Park garden -- as part of environmental voluntarism on a sunny, bright Earth Day last year.

Daily Register file photo

Nothing should stop Portage volunteers from helping the environment this week, not even Mother Nature.

The city of Portage will hold its fifth annual Earth Day and Arbor Day Celebration beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday. People who want to help should meet at Veterans Memorial Field’s Bidwell Building at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

“We continually strive to have green spaces and attractions within our parks, and each year this event allows us to bring people together,” said Parks and Recreation Director Dan Kremer. For the event the city partners with the nonprofit community service agency Renewal Unlimited and the local volunteer group Portage PRIDE. American Transmission Co. sponsors the event, providing $300 to plant trees.

Volunteers on Thursday will paint trash cans and picnic tables at Columbia County Fairgrounds and, if the weather cooperates, will plant trees afterward in Gunderson, Sunset and Riverside parks.

Hot dogs will be served to volunteers at the conclusion of the event.

“Whether you help us for an hour or come for all three hours, it’s appreciated,” Kremer said.

Portage received more than 5 inches of snow over the weekend and into Monday, and another round of snow is expected Wednesday. But neither cold nor snowfall would change the event date, as volunteers can work inside fairground buildings if necessary, Kremer said.

“We had a miserable, snowy day one year at Sunrise Park, and people still turned out and worked very hard,” City Administrator Shawn Murphy said. “The weather didn’t deter them at all. We’ve really benefited from their assistance.”

‘Common ground’

Renewal Unlimited will for the fifth straight year bring its AmeriCorps/Fresh Start members, made up of at-risk youth from the ages of 17 to 24, Program Manager Julie Thomsen said. About 10 of the members will attend.

“It’s really a celebration of service too,” Thomsen said of Thursday’s event. Renewal’s AmeriCorp/Fresh Start program provides members with education, employment skills, career direction and paid work and service experience — service that includes building affordable housing for low- to middle-income families in the Portage area. Renewal and its AmeriCorps members will host an open house for its latest building project at 2425 Wild Rose Court in Portage — at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“When we’re talking about Earth Day in particular, it’s a good way for the community to go across age groups, socioeconomic barriers, gender, religions,” Thomsen said. “I won’t believe that everybody doesn’t care about the Earth, so it’s about finding that common ground, which is something we have in this community.

“You’ll see people from all walks of life helping out.”

Past Earth Day/Arbor Day projects in Portage included trash pickup along the Ice Age Trail, cleanup along the Portage Canal, cleanup at Sunrise Park and Collipp-Worden Park and debris pickup along New Pinery Road.

“Every year we’ve tried to focus on a different area,” Kremer said, noting that Portage recently was named a Tree City USA for the 23rd year in a row. Tree City USA is an Arbor Day Foundation-sponsored program that recognizes communities for managing and expanding their public trees.

Kremer credited Portage resident Jim McDonald for getting an Earth Day/Arbor Day celebration going in Portage. “It really just started with a conversation he and I had,” Kremer said, “and now we carry it forward each year.”

‘Sense of ownership’

Portage PRIDE formed about five years ago with about six core members, and as its name suggests, members believe in “taking pride in your community,” said volunteer Joanne Genrich.

“Earth Day is usually the kickoff of our events,” Genrich said of community service that has included planting flowers in the barrels located in downtown Portage, setting up fall decorations and Christmas decorations downtown and cleaning up wherever help is needed. Interested volunteers should visit the group’s Facebook page throughout the year to learn about planned events.

Perhaps the best part of the city’s Earth Day/Arbor Day celebration is a “spiral” factor, Genrich said. “It’s about the feeling you get as much as the help itself. That’s what you see from the kids, especially. This gives them a sense of ownership. Whether the kids stay in Portage or not, I think they take that sense for community service with them, wherever they go.

“Maybe, hopefully, the significance of what they see here carries on.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter