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What is National Public Lands Day?

An opportunity to give back to our public lands (and free park visitation!)

Celebrate National Public Lands Day on September 26, 2020. This annual celebration of our public lands has taken place every year on the fourth Saturday in September since first established in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation. National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is a day to celebrate the connection between people and green space in their community, inspire environmental stewardship, and encourage the use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits. It’s also the nation’s largest single‐day volunteer effort for public lands.

NPS / Matt Turner

You might be wondering, what exactly are our public lands? Public lands consist of 400 national parks, 560 national wildlife refuges and nearly 250 million acres of other public lands managed by the Department of the Interior, including national forests, national monuments, national historic sites, national conservation areas, national memorials, national trails and more.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers come together on NPLD to volunteer on environmental projects designed to enhance and restore our public lands. In 2019, over 150,000 volunteers participated in hands-on conservation activities at 2,000 public lands sites across the US. This year, the necessity for social distancing due to COVID-19 has changed the landscape. In place of large gatherings, NPLD is focused on socially-distant volunteer and virtual events, which you can find listed on the NPLD event locator.

You might be surprised at the variety of volunteer opportunities from trail rehabilitation, non-native plant removal, native seed collecting, to calls for photographers and artists to capture the beauty and diversity of these natural lands. In addition, many of our public lands have shouldered an especially heavy burden of over-visitation this summer. You’ll find organized efforts to minimize the impact of this increased visitation through trash clean ups. Join in on these planned events, or take the initiative and individually clean up your local public lands. All you’ll need is a trash bag, gloves and a trash grabber tool if you have one. All types of environments from forests, waterways, trails, lookouts and beaches will benefit from a clean-up. Leave it better than you found it.

One of the main highlights of National Public Lands Day is that national park access is free of charge. So you can also simply participate by heading out to your National Park for the day and enjoy your favorite recreational activity from hiking and camping, to climbing, paddling or simply star gazing. Not sure which National Park to visit? Take the Find Your Park quiz to find the perfect pairing.  While you’re there, be sure to recreate responsibly. You can Join the #RecreateResponsibly movement to learn best practices to protect America’s treasures for future generations to enjoy.

For those who aren’t able to visit their public lands in person, you’re invited to connect remotely through digital opportunities including virtual tours and virtual volunteer events for birdwatchers and history-buffs alike, plus at-home activities for kids include junior ranger online programs.

From all of us at Geartrade—enjoy National Public Lands Day!

Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com