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Scrapbook: Club, Black Caucus Team Up to Take Kids Camping

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April 16, 2010

Club, Black Caucus Team Up to Take Kids Camping


In early April, eleven students from the Clark County Black Caucus in Las Vegas joined Sierra Club organizers Rob Disney and Vinny Spotleson and four adult chaperones on a 3-day camping trip to Valley of Fire State Park and visits to the nearby Reid Gardner coal plant and Moapa Paiute Reservation.


The trip's objectives were threefold: to get the kids out into nature, to talk about where Las Vegas' energy comes from, and to connect the Black Caucus with the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who showed the group their planned site for a solar plant as a cleaner alternative to Reid Gardner.


Yvette Williams, chair and founder of the Clark County Black Caucus, had the original idea for the trip. "The caucus is very active," says Disney, "but the environment is a new focus for them. One thing that inspired Yvette was a talk by environmental and civil rights activist Van Jones at one of caucus's events last fall during the Clean Energy Summit with Senator Harry Reid."

Over the months that followed, Williams and other caucus members began working closely with the Sierra Club. Disney, Spotleson, and fellow Nevada Sierra Club organizer Emily Rhodenbaugh were invited to speak at a caucus meeting, and this spring they teamed up to organize the camping trip.


"Most of the kids had never been camping before," Spotleson says. "Some of them had a little trouble falling asleep the first night due to being in a tentand ironically, because of the darkness. But by the second evening everyone was totally comfortable."


All the kids immediately took to rock-climbing, he says. "That's pretty much what they wanted to do the whole time." A park ranger, below, also briefed them about the cultural and geological history of park, telling them about the Anasazi people who preceded the Paiutes in the area, and explaining why the red rocks were jutting out of the ground. (The area used to be an ocean bed and the rocks have been pushed up only recently by colliding tectonic plates.)


The next day the group left Valley of Fire to visit the Reid Gardner power plant, below, and the Moapa Paiute Reservation.


"Reid Gardner is one of the dirtiest coal plants in America, and it sits barely 200 yards from the Moapa Paiute community," Spotleson says. "We were looking at the smokestack, transmission lines, and cooling towers, when a load of coal arrived by train."


Disney says the message he and Spotleson tried to convey to the kids was that the plant is basically a big power cord that plugs into their televisions and PlayStations, and we all need to try and reduce our overall energy use and encourage renewable energy like wind and solar.


On the reservation, tribal activist Ian Zabarte, above, gave a presentation on energy issues from the Paiutes' perspective, and the 200-megawatt solar facility the tribe is planning to build. Zabarte talked about how damaging the Reid Gardner plant is to the health of his community, and the tribe's hopes of using their own resources to bring more clean energy online.

"They've seen the negative impact of coal first-hand," says Disney, "and it's a priority for them that they be active members in the clean-energy economy that's being created right now." Zabarte also told the kids about a dark imprint on the mountain range across the valley that looks like an eagle, and how the Moapa Paiutes see the eagle as their protector.


Back in camp that evening, all the kids expressed an interest in doing more camping trips and getting their friends involved.

"We've struck up a great relationship with the Black Caucus," Disney says. "The Nevada Public Utility Commission is holding a series of public hearings next month on their integrated resource plan, and it looks like one of the kids who came on the camping trip will come and testify about the need to get off coal power and onto renewable energy."

Learn more about clean energy and how to move America beyond coal.

All photos by Rob Disney

Note: Two weeks before the camping trip, as part of National Clean Air Day, youth activists from the Black Caucus conducted a scavenger hunt for the smoggiest places in Las Vegas and then went bowling against smog. Check out their photo album.


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