EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — What does Earth Day mean to seventh-graders at the Alder Avenue Middle School?

“You have to try your best to conserve your natural resources,” seventh-grader Aqsa Asad, of Egg Harbor Township, said.

She and her classmates staffed a booth Sunday at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s 24th annual Earth Day fair.

Thousands of people attended the fair for its exhibit tents, hay rides, petting zoos and educational displays ranging from horseshoe crabs to insects you can eat. The official Earth Day holiday was Tuesday, but the ACUA’s event celebrates Atlantic County’s natural heritage, from the Pine Barrens to its parks and reserves.

The Egg Harbor Township students worked on a composting and recycling project this year at their school. Now Aqsa is composting household waste at home, as well.

“You take banana peels, apple cores and eggshells. They make good fertilizer,” she said.

The fair has become a popular spring event, with an army of Atlantic County sheriff’s officers and volunteers helping to direct traffic to makeshift lots scattered around the ACUA campus. Natural gas-powered jitneys ferried fairgoers from the parking lots to the fairgrounds.

Atlantic County park manager Adam Witcraft, of Hammonton, said residents don’t have to go far to find great outdoor recreation, hunting, fishing or hiking.

“We have 12 parks with over 7,000 acres with camping, boating and hiking. Lake Lenape is a well-kept secret with its great fishing,” he said.

Lake Lenape East in Mays Landing has new pavilions set to open on July 1.

Wood-carver George Ross, of Tuckerton, showed off his latest creation, a wood duck that is almost ready for painting. Ross carves the hunting decoys out of cedar as local tradition dictates. This wood is naturally water resistant and floats, he said.

“They used to take the two forms and nail them together. Today, I use Gorilla Glue. That stuff is like steel,” he said.

Ross has been making duck decoys all his life, although they are just for decoration now.

“I like the wood duck the most. I think they’re the prettiest bird in all duckdom,” he said.

Much progress has been made in Atlantic County since the first Earth Day in 1970. But Mike Pippin, of Delanco Township, said protecting the county’s sensitive environment remains a challenge.

Pippin works in outreach for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for the conservation of the Pinelands National Reserve. The reserve sprawls across seven counties and provides drinking water for most of South Jersey.

His group and other environmentalists persuaded the Pinelands Commission to reject a new natural-gas pipeline that would have crossed 10 miles of the reserve.

“I look at it as a constant vigil. You always have to prevent the chipping away of the comprehensive management plan,” he said of the blueprint that steers development in the Pinelands.

Pippin said Atlantic County residents seem to appreciate that they live in picturesque place that requires environmental stewardship.

“The reason the Pinelands needed to be protected hasn’t changed in all these years,” he said.

Egg Harbor Township teacher John Jones said his students and their peers one day will be entrusted with the preservation of the county’s natural resources. That’s why the recycling, composting and gardening projects make good hands-on lessons about local issues, he said.

“The passion they bring to it is inestimable,” he said. “Their creativity is boundless. They don’t see a problem the way adults might. They see opportunities at solutions.”

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.