With climate change and global warming an increasing topic of conversation in our communities, you may find yourself wanting to pay tribute to the public lands in your neighborhoods. One of the best ways to do so is by celebrating National Public Lands Day, which is observed annually on the 4th Saturday in September.

The History of National Public Lands Day

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National Public Lands Day (NPLD) has been around for more than two decades. Three federal agencies launched the initiative in 1994 with the help of more than 700 volunteers. Since then, the event has grown tremendously. By 2010, estimates showed that more than 170,000 volunteers made efforts to partake in the day, with events occurring at more than 2,000 sites across the United States.

Today, the event is primarily managed by the National Environmental Education Foundation, which has helped grow the event to the most substantial single-day volunteer effort on public lands. In 2016, an estimated 236,000 volunteers helped with NPLD projects. Volunteers generated as much as $22 million in contributions through their efforts.

This year will serve as the holiday’s 25th anniversary. To mark the event, NEEF has announced that they will focus on resilience and restoration, noting that we must treat our public lands properly if we expect them to survive. They cited numerous factors that take a toll on our public areas, including natural disasters, extreme weather, and human activities.

As the number of volunteers helping with the event has grown, so too have the federal agencies and sponsors as well. For example, there are now multiple federal agencies that participate in the event, including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Furthermore, Toyota Motor Sales will serve as a sponsor for the 2018 event, as they have done for the past 20 years. This is an event that Toyota takes great pride in, as they encourage their employees to volunteer that day at a national park. Since 1999, more than 4,000 Toyota employees have volunteered on the 4th Saturday of September.  

How to Celebrate National Public Lands Day

We must admit that National Public Lands Day is a holiday that we look forward to celebrating every September. Nothing beats a day outdoors spent with like-minded people who care about protecting the environment. Below, you’ll find our recommendations and opinions on how to best commemorate the holiday. We’ve compiled these recommendations after having celebrated the event for years.

However, we also look forward to hearing from you. If you’ve celebrated National Public Lands Day in the past, please let us know in the comment section below! We value our readers and love to hear about new and exciting ways to commemorate this day. Together, we can come up with a comprehensive list of the best ways to celebrate Public Lands Day.

Visit Public Lands for Free

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One of the most significant perks of National Public Lands Day is the fact that it is a “fee-free” day. Whereas many public lands typically charge an entry fee, the fee is waived o the 4th Saturday in September. If you’ve been meaning to check out a public park in your area but the price tag has kept you away, choosing to do so on this date could be an excellent option.

Additionally, if you choose to volunteer on this day, there’s a good chance that you’ll receive a coupon for free entry into a public land at some point later in the year. While we believe that volunteering on the day should be at the top of your to-do list anyway, the fact that you’ll receive free entry into another federally-managed public land is not a bad perk.  

Volunteer at an Event in Your Area

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There’s no better way to give back to your community on the 4th Saturday in September than by volunteering at a Public Lands Day event. You can search for events in your area. Volunteering could involve anything from passing out pamphlets to planting trees at a public land near you. Regardless, we find that this is one of the best ways to leave the day feeling fulfilled. Events may include:

  • Planting trees or native vegetation
  • Removing trash
  • Removing invasive plants
  • Building and refurbishing trails
  • Repairing bridges
  • Restoring historical structures
  • Monitoring endangered species
  • Restoring habitats

Furthermore, you can choose to do this with your friends or by yourself. Either way, we believe you’ll have a fantastic experience. While celebrating the holiday with friends is always memorable, some of our best experiences have come about when we met new people. Volunteers and visitors travel from afar during Public Lands Day, and you never know who you may encounter.

Share Your Day with Others

Public Lands Day has grown in recent years because of its notoriety. The only way for the day to continue to grow is if you share your participation with your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. One of the best ways to do so is by sharing pictures of the day on social media using a hashtag such as #NPSVolunteer, #FindYourPark, or #NPLD.

Additionally, in the days leading up to the 4th Saturday in September, you can browse through the hashtags to view photos from last year’s events. This could be a tremendous way to help build excitement about volunteering on NPLD. Plus, you never know which members of your friends and family you’ll see while searching!

Plant Trees with Your Children

If you have young children, you may not feel comfortable enough to take them to a public land on the 4th Saturday in September. There’s no need to worry, however, as you can still make a positive impact on your environment on this day. Perhaps consider an activity such as planting a new tree in your backyard with your child.

You can use this experience to help explain the importance of nature and preserving our ecosystem. Additionally, you can use the experience to help explain things such as responsibility and patience, as the tree will need water, fertilizer, and nurturing for it to grow over time. Making a positive impact on Public Lands Day does not necessarily require a grand gesture or event.

Another exciting project for children could be building a bird-feeder. You can either purchase a pre-made kit or make the feeder from scratch. If you’re looking for an exciting way to spend a few hours with your child on NPLD, this is an excellent option to do so. Plus, a birdfeeder is a gift that keeps on giving, as your child will see new birds in your backyard every day.

Organize a Trail Clean-Up

According to the NEEF, you do not need to have a mega-event that mobilizes an entire community to make a difference on the 4th Saturday of September. If you only have a few volunteers, consider an event like a trail clean-up. It may not seem like much, but picking up trash from a trail could go a long way toward preserving the environment and keeping our public lands pristine.

Come up with an Idea of Your Own

If you have access to a public land, the opportunities for this day are endless. In fact, NEEF says that you can register “any project that benefits the public land.” This means that you can choose a project that most benefits your public land. A restoration project at one public land site may not fit the needs of your public land site. You practically have a blank canvas when it comes to choosing an event.

If your public land cannot host a volunteer event, that does not mean you must forgo honoring Public Lands Day. Instead, you can host educational programming that day. From seminars to hikes to festivals, feel free to come up with an event that helps keep your community informed about the issues facing your region.  

Keep the Holiday Going

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Although people celebrate NPLD on the 4th Saturday of September, some government agencies indicate that they will host events throughout fall into October. The main point of Public Lands Day is awareness and making a difference in the community. For that reason, we recommend you keep NPLD going for the weeks following the event.

Just because you are not able to attend an event does not mean you should not be able to participate. If you are not available on the 4th Saturday of September, feel free to coordinate an event after the fact. Remember, caring for public lands and the environment is not something that should last one day. Instead, it’s a mindset that we should take with us wherever we go.

Sign up For NPLD Publications

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Because the event is government-backed, it is well-organized. Even if you are unable to make a Public Lands Day event this year, you should consider signing up for the NEEF newsletter, which produces NPLD publications. There, you can find information about upcoming events in your area, as well as information about next year’s events. It’s never too early to start planning!


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