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Ranger Rick Goes to Bonnaroo and Reminds Twentysomethings Just How Much They’ve Missed Him
Last week, the National Wildlife Federation joined a new community. We gathered up our camping gear, piled into two cars, and started out toward Manchester, Tennessee for our first visit to Bonnaroo–an annual music and arts festival attended by close to 80,000 people. The seven NWF representatives who made the trip had only a general idea of what to expect once we got there, but we knew what was most essential: NWF had a booth to fill and a completely fresh opportunity to share our message with a new audience.
Certainly an attraction for all ages of festival-goers, Bonnaroo proved to be primarily a hub of twentysomethings. Young people from all corners of the country joined for four straight days of celebrating music, comedy, art, food, and… stewardship! In the time between concerts by Paul McCartney, Jack Johnson, and Tom Petty–the three headliners on a long and impressive list of performers–the crowds mingled their way through an area of the festival appropriately deemed “Planet Roo.” And that’s where we came in.
Planet Roo offered yoga classes, gardening workshops, organic coffee, free scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, environmental documentaries, and even a solar powered stage for smaller musical acts. Non-profit groups representing a wide variety of causes lined the area’s perimeter, promoting their initiatives and seeking to engage with passers by. Stationed next door to Tennessee Wild, a local organization whose team passionately strives to protect wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest, NWF’s national perspective worked to build a cohesive conversation on the multiple levels at which conservation efforts are happening and where they need to grow.
We spent about twelve hours a day welcoming hundreds of young adults to enjoy the shade in our booth and learn about how they can help urge the Obama Administration to limit carbon pollution and protect wildlife from climate change–and of course pose for a photo with Ranger Rick on a stick. We answered questions, we had constructive debates, and we got thousands of Bonnaroovians to sign their name to our cause.
Same time next year?
Really, this was an experiment. And now we get to decide whether it was worth it, whether to do it all again. Time will tell as the discussions wage onward, but in quick refection, the NWF crew drove off our campsite with cause to rejoice. Flipping through pages upon pages of handwritten contact information, comparing stories of discussions we had with the people we met, it came clear that this is an energized group of people who resonate with the work we do for a wide variety of reasons.
Countless visitors to our booth lit up with nostalgia upon seeing our stack of Ranger Rick Magazines, before reminiscing about reading them with grandparents and sharing them with siblings. They would ask what we were doing at Bonnaroo and eagerly reach for a pen to show their support. Some inquired about ways to join NWF’s efforts in their local area.
The seven of us that took on the adventure of Bonnaroo are all in our twenties, we all devote our days to environmental advocacy and hope that by strengthening our pieces we in turn are strengthening the whole. In my most authentic optimism I believe that we are. And there was something refreshingly motivating about the simplicity of this project, the reminder that the mission behind our work and the conviction with which we communicate it actually offers a promising starting point and a truly solid foundation. As our generation finds its role in influencing policy and healing our planet, creative accessibility may be the key to welcoming this demographic aboard. Just as Ranger Rick showed up in our mailboxes when we were too young to leave our backyards alone, that same face went to Bonnaroo to remind his old friends that environmental action can fit seamlessly into their lives and that wildlife need them now more than ever. The pictures from our Wildlife Photo Booth say it all, that this is a relationship all parties were happy to rekindle. Now, let’s stay in touch.
Check out all the photos from our Wildlife Photo Booth HERE!