The Nature Conservancy takes fun approach to environmental education

Posted Aug. 05, 2013, at 1:27 p.m.
Cara Chancellor of The Nature Conservancy posed recently with King Neptune at the Maine Lobster Festival. The five-day celebration was one stop on the environmental advocacy group's ongoing tour of Maine fairs, festivals and farmers' markets with a goal of educating more people about the importance of conservation and nature in Maine.
Nature Conservancy photo
Cara Chancellor of The Nature Conservancy posed recently with King Neptune at the Maine Lobster Festival. The five-day celebration was one stop on the environmental advocacy group's ongoing tour of Maine fairs, festivals and farmers' markets with a goal of educating more people about the importance of conservation and nature in Maine.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Misty Edgecomb of The Nature Conservancy was a woman on a mission last week at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.

Wearing a bright red lobster crown, Edgecomb lured unsuspecting bystanders to come talk to her by asking a funny trivia question about the environment in Maine. But the humor masked a serious sentiment: the need to get the word out to a broader part of the population about the importance of protecting the state’s natural environment.

“We wanted to get people in Maine to think about conservation as not just saving pretty places,” Edgecomb, originally of Aroostook County and a former BDN reporter, said Monday morning. “Natural resources are the heart of the economy in Maine. Because we have abundant natural resources, we sometimes take them for granted.”

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group’s summerlong campaign, Nature is ME, is funded by a grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and encourages both broad education and awareness efforts and active engagement among Mainers and those who love Maine. People are invited to take daily challenges through the campaign’s website and enter to win a prize from the $15,000 prize pool, which includes gift certificates, ski packages and more.

“We want to do something that talks to people about why nature matters,” Edgecomb said. “There’s too many environmental groups just talking with each other. You can get a lot more done when you’re not preaching to the choir.”

So she and others from The Nature Conservancy who worked at the Maine Lobster Festival donned the lobster crown and generally acted like carnival barkers to entice folks into conversation, asking questions including the source of their community’s drinking water supply. In Rockland, it’s Mirror Lake in Rockport. But one popular wrong answer given by many, she said, was “Poland Springs.”

“People don’t always make the connection,” she said.

Many did, however. She estimated that over the five-day festival, she and others talked to at least 1,200 people about Maine’s environment. Knowledge levels varied from “nil to people who were schooling me.”

“I had people who’d say, ‘I’m a clammer. You need a question about clams.’ They’d help me write a question on the spot,” Edgecomb said.

The question they came up with asked if hods are used to measure clams, blueberries, potatoes, Moxie or Allen’s coffee brandy. The correct answer, of course, is clams — but the others made people laugh, she said.

“Sometimes, the people who grow up here don’t see the value of nature. Sometimes, it takes fresh eyes,” Edgecomb said.

The Nature Conservancy’s show will remain on the road through the autumn, making stops at the Machias Blueberry Festival, the Blue Hill Fair, the Common Ground Fair and at area farmer’s markets.

For information, visit nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/maine.

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