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Local March for Science draws people from all walks of life

Steve Wright, a disabled combat veteran, and wife Anne Marie, a retired CPA, advocate for science.1 / 4
Rick and Lyn Pinnick are members of the Park Rapids-Menahga Indivisible Group, which organized the local March for Science. They support funding for science. 2 / 4
Thirty-eight concerned local citizens voiced their support for science and Earth Day, several joining after this group photo was taken. (Submitted photo)3 / 4
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Nearly 40 people gathered for a satellite March for Science in Park Rapids.

Saturday's march coincided with Earth Day and similar events across Minnesota and nationwide.

The peaceful demonstration aimed to acknowledge and voice the critical role that science plays in everyone's lives.

"Our purpose is to draw attention to the value of science, the need for research on climate change, environmental concerns and the importance of protecting our waterways," organizer Lyn Pinnick wrote to the City of Park Rapids to notify them of the event and request written permission.

Local scientists and concerned citizens stood along street corners throughout downtown Park Rapids to show their support for science, particularly due to proposed budget cuts on the federal level which would decrease research into climate change and weaken environmental protections.

Lyn's husband, Rick, noted that Dow Chemical Co. is currently pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists that widely used pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — are harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Reactions to marchers were mixed. Some passersby honked their horns and thanked them. Others gave their thumbs down. Or worse.

"I've only been flipped off twice," Pinnick said Saturday.

She was pleased with the number of participants "and the number of honks."

"People that support science: my kind of people," she said. "Science is about everyone. This is not intended to a Democrat or Republican issue. The earth needs all of our support. That's why every sign I made says Earth Day."

"This is everybody's cause. This is not a partisan issue. Earth Day is everybody's," said Laurie Wilson. She and husband Dan read about the Park Rapids march and decided to join.

"A lot of our friends went to Bemidji because there's a big event there, but this is the community we do most of our business in and we want to pay attention to the water and natural resources," she said.

As they stood on a corner of Hwy. 71, a group of kids from the Middle School Apartments asked them about Earth Day.

"We said, 'You know, if you go to the park today, you could pick up litter.' They came back about 20 minutes later and said they had picked up the litter," said Laurie.

"If they 'get it' early, they'll have it their whole lives," Dan said.

The Wilsons heard Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota Extension climatologist and meteorologist, speak at Itasca State Park last year.

"In this great discussion about whether the planet is warming or not, as it turns out, this corner of the state is warming more than any other corner. The hottest places in the North American continent are Alaska and northern Minnesota. Part of what this is all about is we could be a corner of the world that's impacted as much as any," Dan said.

"We have to find solutions together," Laurie added.

"It'll change the trees that can grow up here, the red pine. It'll change everything. Our whole life is based upon keeping it the way we want for our kids and grandchildren," Dan said.

Betty and Gary Dagen drove over from Frazee. They stayed at a bed and breakfast and ate dinner in Park Rapids.

"We came for a couple reasons," explained Betty. "We wanted to participate in an Earth Day event and we both love reading and learning about science. It affects every aspect of our lives, whether it's medical research or paint we put on our walls or cell phones. Science is everywhere."

"I'm surprised we're getting a lot more thumbs up than down, though you get a few of those as well," Gary said.

Steve Wright is a disabled combat veteran. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps and in Iraq with the Army. He and wife Anne Marie, a retired certified public accountant, have been regularly demonstrating against Trump.

They are members of the Northern Resistance for the Common Good, based in Ponsford.

While protesting Trump, the Wrights have been told they are doing Satan's work. Ice cream was thrown at them. The cops have been called. They've been advised "to get a job."

"We don't expect to change minds. That's not why we're here," Steve said. "We're here to show the people that agree with us and feel alone that there's other people here and they're not alone."

On Saturday, they stood for science.

"It's a different tenor today," Anne Marie said.

John Hitchcock, a retired science professor from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said he felt "a sense of support" from the Park Rapids community.

One of his greatest fears is "defunding the source of facts."

"Not only defunding the sources, but hiding the data that's been developed to demonstrate the problems we're facing right now, the nature of the crisis," added John King, a retired high school chemistry and physics teacher from Long Prairie.

For a decade, King lived in a region of Alaska that is now underwater. Due to the permafrost melting, the sea level raised slightly enough to obliterate the coastal village.

"They're our first climate change refugees," he said.

The rate of species extinction even exceeds the rate after the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs.

"If global climate change is a human-caused event that's actually a sign of hope because that gives us the power to do something about it," said King.

The first Earth Day was observed on April 22, 1970 and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement.