Climate walkers find respite from trek in Greencastle

Pastor Doug Beltzner and Ami Myers from Greencastle Presbyterian Church welcome members of a national climate walk. The church lined up room and board options for the group, as well as showers at Elite Fitness. The congregation served breakfast and tried to meet the needs of the weary travelers over the weekend, Beltzner said.

The weekend in Greencastle was a respite for 50 travelers heading for Washington DC. They didn't relax in a hotel, but found accommodations in unusual places. Sneakers at an entrance to Greencastle Presbyterian Church were evidence of that.

The visitors, who were walking across America, were united in the cause of The Great March for Climate Action. The motley crew of men and women of all ages, even a dog, spent Friday and Saturday nights at homes of congregational members, in their campers in the yards of friendly hosts, or in the church itself. They left Sunday, expecting to reach the capital city on Nov. 1.

Presbyterian minister Doug Beltzner said the whole thing came up pretty fast. He was contacted last week by a priest from Greensburg working on logistics for the group.

“We were the only church that was interested in helping them,” Beltzner said. “We jumped on it.”

He recognized that the issue of a carbon footprint and global warming was controversial, and his congregation was split on opinions, but a bigger factor came into play.

“It's the ministry of hospitality,” he said. “Presbyterians are very tolerant. We are a big tent.”

In addition to housing, the church members provided two breakfasts. Enid and Laszlo Madaras fed the multitude a supper at their Upton home.

Ami Myers, Christian Education Director, added, “They said this is the first such treatment they've gotten on their trip.”

The march

The trek began March 1 in Los Angeles, and has traversed 12 states. Only four people have been part of the entire walk. Marchers came and went as fit their schedules and finances.

A 58-year-old engineer from California, using the trail name Greenrider, joined in Ohio in September. He sided with “97 percent of scientists, who say a catastrophe is coming. Many in the United States are denying it, but it will destroy the climate. I don't want a bad future for my grandchildren.”

Berenice Tompkins, 18, from New York, started marching in Arizona in April.

“At college I learned we have five to ten years for carbon emissions to peak. That is politically impossible. I couldn't see staying in college writing philosophy papers while time runs out.”

She saw the march as an opportunity to symbolize making the impossible possible. She was touched by stories from northwest Pennsylvania, where families had been torn apart over fracking, when some relatives sold off property to the energy companies. She was also encouraged that some communities had adopted a bill of rights.

Peter Clay, 64, from Iowa, was unemployed, and had walked about 25 percent of the distance in various stints. He was ready for the end event on Saturday.

“We will have a rally at Lafayette Park at 1:00, the conclusion of our eight-month, 3,000 mile journey.”

Speakers from the group planned to summarize the trip, evaluate the overall environmental movement, and share the vision going forward. In the evening, they would gather to share stories they had heard along the way. He was impressed by the concerns of Chicago residents, who had to deal with toxic dust from oil refiners.

The marchers headed next to Hagerstown, with support vehicles accompanying them carrying registration plates from Massachusetts, California, New Mexico and Ontario. They would cover the average of 15 miles per day once again.