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Tomorrow is National Public Lands Day

Saturday, Sept. 29 marks the 19th annual National Public Lands Day, a celebration of America’s natural and cultural heritage.  It’s a great opportunity to get outside—either as a volunteer at one of over 2,000 participating sites nationwide, or as a visitor to one of the many areas that is observing a fee-free day.

As part of last year’s National Public Lands Day, legions of volunteers around the nation combined forces to plant a whopping 100,000 trees and plants and build an impressive 1,500 miles of trail.  That’s quite a tally for a single day’s worth of work, and it’s a great reminder of how much we can do for our parks and other public lands when we decide to take responsibility for them.

This is a big thing for me: all too often, I hear people refer to the acreage managed by agencies like the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “federal lands.”  This bothers me because that terminology relinquishes the sense of ownership of those lands.  The reality is that national parks, forests, grasslands, and wildlife refuges are public lands.  They belong to all of us–not some far-off overlord–and we all share responsibility for what happens to them.  So I always try to refer to these areas not as “federal lands,” or “government lands,” but as “federally-run public lands.”

view across San Francisco's Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands

The view across San Francisco’s Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. (Photo by Marlith.)

Volunteering is a great way to get involved, and there’s almost certainly a site in need of help near you.  Not far from where I live in South Dakota, to pick one project, Wind Cave National Park will gather a crew of volunteers to remove fencing from the historic Sanson Ranch.  In Vermont, the Black River Action Team has arranged a river cleanup effort.  My natal state, New Jersey, has fifteen different projects to choose from, ranging from trail construction and maintenance to water quality testing.  And out in California, there are 125 participating sites!  San Franciscans, you can help clean up Crissy Field; Angelenos, you can help out at the Venice Beach Least Tern Colony.  For those of you in San Diego, how does invasive plant removal at Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge sound?

There’s sure to be a project out there that strikes your fancy.  But if you need more motivation, there’s a Volunteers in Action photo contest with prizes from REI for great shots depicting Public Lands Day volunteers at work.

Park volunteer needs aren’t limited to one day out of each year, of course.  You can learn more about volunteer opportunities with different federal agencies from the central clearinghouse volunteer.gov.

Here at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, the usual entrance fee of $15 will be waived for the day. And, as a follow-up to National Public Lands Day, the park and partner group Friends of the Badlands will co-host a Badlands Bash on Sunday, Sept. 30 in Rapid City.  The free festivities at the Bash will run from 1-7 PM in Main Street Square.

What will you do for National Public Lands Day this year?  I hope you find a way to pitch in … or simply get outside and enjoy your public lands!

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