By Sue Gray
My favorite day of the year is Dandelion Day, the Carbondale community’s celebration of our town’s commitment to healthy environmental practices. That might sound a little boring, but this day is full of joy, discovery, camaraderie, music, and fun.
The festivities start with the whimsical Parade of Species down Main Street, which is non-motorized in keeping with the sustainability theme. A troupe of drummers and dancers leads our townfolk as they walk, ride bikes, and pull wagons, some in costumes representing real or imaginary creatures, along with some actual creatures such as sheep, llamas, and dogs. The kids’ costumes are cute, but I always feel a special sense of glee when I see grown men and women dressed as bees, butterflies, and flowers.
The parade ends in Sopris Park, which has been transformed by a colorful collection of booths featuring local entrepreneurships, non-profits, plant and food vendors, and kid’s activities. As I walk around marveling at the wide variety of offerings, from herbal medicines to community garden plot sign-ups, I’m running into friends right and left. Some are taking in the sights as I am, some are staffing their own booths.
Dandelion Day truly embodies community spirit and involvement, and I’m proud to say I was part of the evolution of this quintessential Carbondale festival. From 2008 to 2016 I was one of the organizers of the annual event. Along with Stacy Stein, Candace Goodwin, Alyssa Reindel and a host of other volunteers, we took the event to a level far beyond its humble beginnings.
It’s hard to say which came first, Dandelion Day or the Town of Carbondale Environmental Board. Both were birthed by a group of concerned community members, led by Doc “Dandelion” Philip, who lobbied the Town Council to end the spraying of herbicides on the lawns of our parks and schools, citing health concerns for our children.
The first Dandelion Day in 1998 was nothing more than a community weed pull in Sopris Park. Somewhat symbolic, this became the impetus for then Mayor Randy Vanderbeek to declare the dandelion the official flower of the Town of Carbondale and ban herbicide use on town properties.
The group of citizens that first raised the issue of herbicide dangers became the de facto Environmental Board and Dandelion Day began to bloom into a showcase for educating our citizens about sustainable issues and practices. In the process the humble dandelion, which some consider an annoying weed, was elevated to its proper status as a nutritious, beneficial and essential part of our ecosystem.
The mantle of responsibility for this beloved festival has been passed on now to a younger generation, led by Natalie Rae Fuller, but as I sit on the grass in the Beer Garden enjoying a beverage with some of my former Dandelion Day committee crew, listening to local musicians perform on stage and taking in the sight of my community in full Spring celebration, I am heartened. This is the embodiment of the Carbondale spirit, of the human spirit, of our desire to connect with and protect the earth for future generations of people, plants, bees, birds, fish, and of course… dandelions.