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At the start of this year, staff at the Anita Purves Nature Center were collaborating with community partners to plan programs, events and volunteer opportunities for a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a focus on climate action.

Like most everything else in 2020, those initial plans were derailed by COVID-19. But an exciting new project — one that may be even more impactful — is in the works.

The Urbana Park District is fortunate to have a decadeslong culture of environmental awareness and stewardship.

At the heart of our mission is to promote conservation and community health, contribute to the attractiveness of neighborhoods and improve the quality of life of our citizens.

In the last five years, we have installed solar panels and rain gardens, planted more than 500 trees, restored wetlands and other natural areas and decreased overall energy consumption and waste.

It became evident that a formal plan of action would help to coordinate efforts to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, prepare for and respond to the local impacts of climate change and more effectively communicate about the importance of action.

For the past several months, staff have been laying the groundwork for what will become the district’s first plan to direct its environmentally-responsible practices into the future.

These plans come by many different names depending on their focus; there are sustainability and resilience plans, green infrastructure plans, climate action plans and more.

We collected, read and evaluated such plans from other cities, park districts and forest preserves.

Themes from other plans that most pertained to the district’s mission were teased out and organized into our plan’s three primary pillars:

Communicating Climate Action underscores the Urbana Park District’s commitment to serve as a community leader and role model for climate action through internal practices, public outreach and programs and collaborative partnerships.

Protecting and Strengthening Our Natural Environment reinforces the district’s responsibility to care for the health of humans, plants, animals, ecosystems and the climate by reducing our carbon footprint, expanding natural areas and improving air and water quality.

Conserving Resources highlights the district’s dedication to the sustainability of natural resources through conserving energy and water, generating clean energy, reducing waste and increasing recycling and reuse.

From these pillars, the plan’s official name developed: the Urbana Park District CARES (Climate Action, Resilience, Education & Sustainability) Plan.

The next step is to start drafting the plan’s goals and objectives based on feedback from district staff and other internal stakeholders.

Example goals include eliminating single-use plastics across the district, expanding our use of solar energy, creating more green storm water infrastructure to help prevent local flooding and providing more opportunities for safe walking and biking routes.

Once it is halfway complete, a draft of the plan and its goals will be shared with the community for review and feedback.

Staff are looking forward to the adoption of the CARES Plan to achieve a more sustainable and climate-ready future for our community for many more decades to come.

Our hope is to finalize the plan in time for Earth Day on April 22, 2021.

Savannah Donovan is the Environmental Public Program Coordinator for the Urbana Park District. Email her at sydonovan@urbanaparks.org.

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