Barbecue-flavored bugs were being served at Old Mill Park on Saturday as part of the celebration of Fredericksburg City’s Earth Day on the Rappahannock.

“Yes, I tried one,” said 9-year-old Julia Combs. “They told me they’re healthy.”

“Also, unlike meat, they don’t spoil, they’re cheaper to grow and harvest, and two-thirds of the world’s population already eat bugs as part of their diet,” added Julia’s dad, Stephen Combs.

“Julia’s my adventuresome child,” commented mom Carrie.

“It didn’t taste good at all,” Julia said. “After I put it in my mouth, I spit it right back out!”

The Combs said the gourmet bugs being given away at the 95.9–WGRQ radio booth were new this year. The Fredericksburg family has been coming to the festival since it started with only a few tables 15 years ago at Alum Springs Park.

Balmy blue skies and sunshine blessed an estimated crowd of 5,000-plus attending the free event. More than 80 vendor booths each offered some kind of hands-on Earth Day-related activity.

“We try to make it engaging for everyone,” said event organizer Linda Bailey, who is nature education coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation department. “It’s such a fun event with a happy spirit, the park looks beautiful, the trees starting to leaf out—and no matter where you are you can see the crowning jewel of our city, the river.”

This was Bailey’s last year organizing the festival. After serving Fredericksburg for 24 years, she and her husband will be moving to southern Oregon, closer to Seattle, where Bailey grew up.

“It’s a bittersweet time,” Bailey said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I feel really good about the shape we’re leaving [the Earth Day festival] in. It definitely will continue and it will be exciting to see where it goes from here.”

“We will really miss Linda,” said Clare Mills, who was at the Spotsylvania County Parks and Recreation booth Saturday. She said she has served on the planning committee for the event for many years. “But there are a lot of us here who are dedicated to keeping it all going forward.”

Next to her booth was a large pile of wastewater biosolids compost, which the county was giving away to any visitor who wanted to fill a bag. Normally, it is sold for $20 per cubic yard.

Seven-year-old Javan Tarzi was busy dumping shovelfuls into the bag his mom, Erika, held for him.

“This [festival] is one of our favorite things. We try to come every year,” Erika said. “I like my son to be exposed to these messages, to be responsible for our environment and do organic gardening. It reinforces what I’m trying to teach him at home.”

Javan finished shoveling and tugged at his mom. “I want to go to every single booth,” he said anxiously. She waved, and off they went.

Kelvin Williams of Spotsylvania County carried two small trees as he wandered among the booths—a river birch and a Foster holly.

“I wanted a dogwood tree—you know, it’s the state tree,” Williams said. “But they were all gone when I got there.”

Tree Fredericksburg gave away 1,000 trees at Saturday’s event, sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts. This was Williams’ first time coming to the Earth Day festival.

“I came to get the trees, but I’m interested in seeing what else is here,” he said.

He was with fellow Spotsylvanians Orlando and Rochelle Harrison and their grandchildren, Alissa, 5, and Brandon, 10.

“You can learn so much here,” said Rochelle. “Lots of information about gardening, there’s a Native American booth with a longhouse and lots of things to look at. Oh, and we brought the kids over to learn all about river safety. That’s important.”

“It’s so valuable for us to understand and appreciate this world God has blessed us with,” said Orlando. “We need to be good caretakers and leave this Earth better than it was when we came.”

A tunnel made of 600 plastic grocery bags quilted together attracted many visitors, walking through and marveling as the tunnel shivered in the breeze.

“On average, only three out of all those bags would be recycled,” said Kate Barry, sitting in a camping chair next to two fellow University of Mary Washington students, all of them representing the school’s Ecology Club. “We hope more people will recycle their bags.”

Not far away, a group of seven or eight children was weaving turtles out of yarn and craft sticks at the Fredericksburg Spinners and Weavers booth, where crafters used spinning wheels to make their own yarn out of sheep or alpaca wool.

Maury Mairs was weaving a decorative cloth with an intricate geometric pattern on a wooden loom. He said he learned how about five years ago. “It’s very calming, kind of Zen-like,” he said.

Mairs, who is from Orange, comes to Fredericksburg twice a month for meetings with the Fredericksburg group at LibertyTown Arts Center. He said he’s worked at the Earth Day booth for a few years.

“I think it helps people realize it’s not my world, it’s ours, and we can still save it,” Mairs said.

Emily Jennings: 540/735-1975

ejennings@freelancestar.com

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