Sept. 22 marks the National Environmental Education Foundation’s (NEEF) 25th annual National Public Lands Day, the largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. NPLD is also a “fee-free day” according to NEEF’s website, meaning national parks and other public lands will waive their entrance fee. Federal agencies that take part in NPLD include the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Forest Service. Not only federal lands are able to participate, however— state, country, regional or local public lands, including school grounds and community gardens, fall under NEEF’s celebration of NPLD and are encouraged to participate as well. The theme of NPLD 2018 is Resilience and Restoration— as in, our public lands are resilient, but we need to treat them with respect and restore them when needed.
The NEEF was chartered by congress in 1990 to join with the Environmental Protection Agency to further environmental knowledge and literacy nationwide. NEEF has a valiant vision: that by 2022, “300 million Americans actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the well-being of the earth and its people.” NPLD gives the public the opportunity to learn about their local lands and volunteer to help restore and conserve them.
For the past 25 years, NPLD has supported the mobilization of volunteer groups as small as single families to as large as entire communities in support of conserving the world’s remaining wild places. In 2017, NEEF’s impact report states that over 2,100 sites in the U.S. were registered, 169,000 volunteers participated, 680,000 hours of service were donated, and $16.7 million in volunteer hours were generated. While the impact across the country has been huge, there’s a few things anyone can do to help their community closer to home.
Clean up after yourself
When you visit public lands, don’t leave anything behind— that’s kind of a given. But to go even further, try switching out single-use items for more sustainable options, like bamboo straws, metal forks and reusable sandwich bags. Remember, just because you don’t primarily leave something in your public lands doesn’t mean it won’t float or drift over there from a landfill or waste bucket.
Take the time to research problems facing the public lands on a local level. Are there invasive species of plants nearby? Is fertilizer runoff polluting the water? Will controlled burning be taking place anytime soon? The first step in helping restore public lands is understanding just what it is that needs help. Do your best to learn about your local landscape so you don’t spread invasives, tread on an endangered plant, cause accidental pollution or harm the wildlife.
Spend time outside
One of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty of our public lands is to spend time in them. It’s all great and fine to donate money or follow Twitter pages dedicated to help the environment, but you won’t get the same experience as if you go out in nature for yourself, if you’re able. Get a firsthand look at local beauty, and even local problems. Consider even reaching out to parks and green spaces and seeing if they need volunteers.
Fall back on NEEF
If you’re not sure exactly what you should do to celebrate NPLD, visit https://www.neefusa.org/npld for information about the event, the history of it and even get in contact with public land offices near you to volunteer or learn more.