Celebrating Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day founder and advocate for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Earth Day 2020 is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Wisconsin Senator and Governor Gaylord Nelson, not only for founding Earth Day but for his vital role in establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, 50 years ago.

In this golden anniversary year, we share this Wisconsin Public Television documentary on Nelson’s legacy of environmental advocacy that lives on today. In this video, you will see some historic moments that led to the creation of the National Lakeshore. You will hear from Nelson and from prominent Wisconsin conservationist  Martin Hansen about how they piqued President John F. Kennedy’s interest in the islands during a visit in August of 1963 and what it took to make Nelson’s vision for northern-most Wisconsin a reality.

Hansen is also one of the founders of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the non-profit group dedicated to supporting the park.

You will also learn how and why Nelson proposed a national teach-in on the environment in the fall of 1969. That idea led to the first Earth Day, first observed on April 22, 1970. This annual event harnessed grassroots concern about clean air, water and land. According to the Nelson Institute, one in ten Americans participated in the first Earth Day. Those activities and the media attention they generated helped to make environmental issues a priority in Washington.

(Wisconsin Public Television video) Explore the history of how Earth Day began and the work Gaylord Nelson did as Wisconsin’s governor to launch a new era of environmental activism.


Learn more about Senator Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day efforts from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Especially for kids, watch an animated video and download resources about Senator Nelson and Earth Day from Wisconsin Public Television.

Earth Day resources from the National Park Service.

Earth Day resources from the Earth Day Network.

An Earth Day special produced by WKOW Television, Madison, Wisconsin. The program aired on a five Wisconsin television stations on April 22, 2020.

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