Earth Day 1970: WHS teachers led a student cleanup of Squilchuck Creek
For the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, Wenatchee High School teachers Bill Asplund and Dave DeJong decided that the occasion would be a great opportunity for a hands-on learning project.
They organized a field trip to Squilchuck Creek on the road to Mission Ridge, dropping off pairs of students along the road armed with trash bags. By the end of the school day, DeJong told me, the students collected two truckloads of trash that included everything under the sun, including tires, mattresses and box springs.
The City of Wenatchee donated the use of the trucks for hauling the garbage and at the end of the day, the trash was dumped on the lawn in front of the old Wenatchee High School on Idaho Street. Asplund and DeJong wanted to make a point about the social problem of people trashing the outdoors.
Asplund remembers that principal Tom Byrne was none too pleased about having all that garbage dumped on the lawn without warning.
“It was a fun and successful event,” DeJong recalled. For the kids, “it was the first time in their lives confronting that sort of thing,” he said. It was common for people to just toss trash out the window.
DeJong was an English teacher and Asplund taught chemistry and organized the Alpine Club, a remarkable outdoor organization that gave students the opportunity to go hiking and climb mountains.
DeJong, who remembered joining one Alpine Club expedition to climb Mt. St. Helens, considered Asplund as a mentor in figuring out ways to give students meaningful experiences outside the classroom. A long list of civic leaders were part of the Alpine Club, including Dr. Mark Shipman, Confluence Chief Executive Officer Pete Rutherford, Dr. Peter Valaas, Martha Bean, Randy Asplund and Peter Houck, to name a few.
The Earth Day event was covered in the April 23, 1970 edition of The Wenatchee World with photos of the trash that featured students Jeannie Jeffrey, Dave Foraker, Pam Halverson, Linda Haw and Rick Swanson.
Caring about our community and the natural environment has been a passion for DeJong and Asplund. Of the inaugural Earth Day cleanup, Asplund had this to say: “We all thought we were doing the country a great service.”
Every Earth Day, Asplund makes it a point to call DeJong and the two reminisce about the Squilchuck Creek cleanup. There’s no telling how many students learned important life lessons on that field trip.