This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.
In the five years I’ve run Intrepid Daily, I’ve sung the praises of our public lands. Sometimes indirectly so, such as when I’ve written about moving to the Black Hills. Other times I’ve been more direct, like when I’ve detailed how you can get National Parks all to yourself, or when I explained the differences between National Forests and National Parks. I’ve also written about how we don’t always treat our public lands as well as we should, and the importance of pro-public lands legislation like the Dingell Act and the Great American Outdoors Act. In short, I love public lands. Luckily, now is a great time to give them some love, since Saturday September 26 is National Public Lands Day.
Want to know how you can make the most of National Public Lands Day, or NPLD? Here’s what you need to know.
What are Public Lands?
The idea of American public lands is a simple one —these lands are owned by the people for a number of uses. Because we the people don’t personally have the resources to best manage 640 million acres, federal and state governments manage them on our behalf.
National Parks are probably the best known of our public lands, but there are also National Forests, Bureau of Land Management Lands, Wilderness Areas, National Wildlife Refuges, National Conservation Areas, National Recreation Areas, National Monuments, National Trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Seashores and Lakeshores… But that’s just on the federal level. The states also own and manage over 150 million acres of land, such as state parks and other state-trust lands.
In other words, there’s a ton of public lands available for your use. I won’t dive into everything that you can and can’t do on different kinds of public land here, but this article is a decent place to start if you want to know more about National Parks, National Forests, and Wildlife Areas.
And with this Saturday being National Public Lands Day, there’s no better time to start exploring public lands.
What is National Public Lands Day?
It’s cool, that’s what it is.
Beyond that, National Public Lands Day is America’s largest single-day volunteer effort held annually on the fourth Saturday of September. One of the National Environmental Education Foundation’s signature events, National Public Lands Day launched in 1994, in cooperation with the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Army, as well as 700 volunteers. It’s grown a lot since then — in 2019, more than 150,000 volunteers contributed over $15 million worth of volunteer work at over 2000 sites.
Pretty incredible, right.
So National Public Lands Day gives all of us who love public lands an opportunity to show that love. Traditionally the National Environmental Education Foundation (or NEEF, for short) hosts and helps facilitate volunteer events that draw thousands to chip in on important projects to improve public lands.
How should I celebrate/contribute?
The challenge that we face is that 2020 isn’t the same as previous years. We’re still dealing with a pandemic, so in many places social distancing requirements limit the accessibility of large events with thousands of volunteers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take part, just that you may need to weigh your options.
So what opportunities do you have for contributing on or celebrating National Public Lands Day?
If you’d like, you’re welcome to visit our National Parks for free on NPLD… But, I’ll be honest, I’ve always found that fee-free days at National Parks feel like being stuck in a crowd. Not exactly my cup of tea, and from a sustainability standpoint, not the best for the parks themselves wither. Perhaps instead of just paying a visit to a park, you could volunteer your time at a National Park NLPD event.
You can check out the National Public Lands Day Virtual Signature Event, featuring guest speakers from NEEF and a virtual road trip showing off some of our most scenic public lands. Likewise, you can also take part in virtual events from the comfort and safety of your own home, and even become a virtual volunteer to help support a number of cool projects. Curious about what virtual volunteers can accomplish? Check out some examples of awesome virtual NLPD events and see if you find a little inspiration.
If you’d like to find a physical event or NPLD volunteer activity near you, NEEF has a handy event locator that can point you in the right direction.
What if none of that is right for me?
If virtual events aren’t your thing and you can’t attend a physical event, there’s still one rock-solid way to celebrate National Public Lands Day this Saturday.
Responsibly enjoy our public lands. Go for a long hike in a National Forest or a State Park. Go fishing, climbing, or mountain biking if that’s your jam. Give back a little by taking a bag with you and picking up and litter you may come upon — this might be how we spend the day after taking park in some virtual events. You could even some time to learn about Leave No Trace Principles so that you can recreate more responsibly.
Happy National Public Lands Day!
However you spend this Saturday, I hope you have fun.
But I also hope you take the opportunity to give back a little. Our public lands are an amazing resource that should fill us with a sense of pride, gratitude, and ownership. This land is our land, and while that’s an incredible privilege, it also comes with responsibility. National Public Lands Day is a wonderful opportunity to improve our public lands, but it’s not the only opportunity. If we make caring for our public lands an intrinsic part of our adventure lifestyle and culture, we’ll all enjoy our lands for years to come.