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June 17, 2011 > Celebrating 40 years of environmental activism

Celebrating 40 years of environmental activism

By Julie Grabowski

Beautiful unspoiled hills, thriving wetlands, waving poplar trees, and burrowing owls. These local attributes are just a few of the vast accomplishments of the Tri-City Ecology Center (TCEC). Established as a non-profit, all volunteer organization, TCEC's conservation, preservation, and education efforts have been creating a visible impact in Fremont, Union City, and Newark for decades.

On Sunday, May 22, about 70 members and supporters of TCEC gathered to celebrate 40 years of what Board Chair Gus Morrison called "success, progress, education, and friendship." The event was held at the Fremont Community Center at Lake Elizabeth, the same building where their first meeting was held on January 27, 1971, with a view of the hills they helped to save.

Over 300 people attended that first public meeting, a clear affirmation of the interest in beginning a local ecology group.

Just two months later, they opened a drop-off recycling center and published the Eco-Logic newsletter. The recycling center at the corner of Blacow and Grimmer was open every Saturday and Sunday for 18 years, volunteers receiving aluminum, steel, bi-metal cans, glass containers, and newspapers to prepare for Bay Area recycling plants. Over 13,000,000 pounds of material was recycled from 1971 to 1989. The center closed with the introduction of curbside recycling.

TCEC continued to influence change, bringing public transit to Fremont and Newark, offering an oil recycling program, leading the Hill Initiative to limit development in Fremont's hills, gaining wetlands for Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge, preserving open space below Mission Peak, and creating the Local History Museum Garden.

A book donation program is their longest-running effort, begun in 1972 and made possible by donations from members and income generated through annual fundraisers. A selection of environmental books, videos, and DVDs for both children and adults are donated to the Alameda County libraries in the Tri-Cities each year. Over the past 38 years, approximately $37,000 worth of materials has been donated.

In 2007 the Eco-Grant was established, through which TCEC gives monetary donations to groups or individuals to assist with environmental projects. Grants average between $100 to $300 and have been awarded to 15 applicants over the last three years for various projects, including herb garden restoration at Ardenwood Historic Farm, binoculars and microscopes for the City of Fremont's nature programs, a butterfly garden at Tyson Lagoon's Tule Ponds, worm composting at Parkmont Elementary School, and gardening and educational supplies for Mission Way Baptist Church.

TCEC is now encouraging eco-friendly compostable products for those occasions that call for disposable dining ware. Made from plant fibers, these plates, bowls, and cups can go in the green waste can. Finding these items may be hit and miss at large retail stores, but they are available at some local outlets that specialize in "green" products and www.worldcentric.org.

TCEC continues to work in conjunction with many local groups to protect and improve the environment, and make our communities as livable and sustainable as possible. Morrison says they work to keep ahead of the curve, as it is easier to influence matters before they start than to change them later. He calls TCEC "a catalyst to cause things to happen," and says they hope to serve as an example for other communities in how to operate.

A professor from Pennsylvania State University has taken notice, and is featuring TCEC in his book on Earth Day due out next year. Highlighted in the chapter on environmental groups, TCEC is one of only 25 groups in the country.

When asked what 40 years means, founding member and newsletter Editor Donna Olsen met question with question. "What would it look like if we hadn't come?"

In recognition of their dedicated years of service, TCEC received a framed proclamation from Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman, commendation from Newark Mayor David W. Smith, Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by Pete Stark, and framed Resolution California Legislature by Senator Ellen Corbett and Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski.

Ten stalwart individuals have been involved from the very beginning, with another 42 that joined in the '70s. TCEC has 225 current memberships and is always looking to expand their numbers. "It's a constant educational process," says Olsen about getting people aware of their organization and for them to take notice of what has been done and what needs remain.

If you are interested in the environment and being part of a group that makes a helpful and lasting impact on the community, Tri-City Ecology is the place for you! Members receive the monthly Eco-Logic newsletter that contains updates on projects, lists local nature events, overview of board meetings, as well as helpful information on activities, opportunities to reach out to the community, and environmental education.

"It's a place to have a voice," says Gail Blalock, who has been a member for 20 years. "I feel like I get more than I give just from the education." TCEC also holds open public meetings the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at their office and resource center located at 3375 Country Drive in Fremont.

Despite TCEC's tremendous successes, focusing on the past is rare. "Mostly you don't look back; you look forward to the next issue," says Olsen. Those future issues include involvement in the Caltrans Safety Improvement and Widening Project in Niles Canyon (www.savenilescanyon.org) and fighting to save open space in the Kimber Park community of Fremont (www.savekimberpark.com). Also of concern is Fremont's Environmental Services Department's proposed elimination of the Environmental Services Advisory Commission. TCEC hopes for a restructuring and redefinition of the commission's role in order to maintain their ability to advise the city on environmental matters.

"It is never ending," says Olsen of the work. "If it ended, where would we be?"

To learn more about the Tri-City Ecology Center, call (510) 793-6222 or visit online at www.tricityecology.org.

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