National Public Lands Day may not be one of the best known American holidays. But one thing that almost everyone across the country can enjoys are state and national parks. Over 84 million acres of such land can be found and explored across the USA. They range from areas of historic significance such as the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, which preserves the house of the revolutionary Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and D.C.’s the Lincoln Memorial to vast and largely untamed areas of wilderness such as California’s Yosemite, South Carolina’s Congaree and Alaska’s Wrangell-St Elias.
This varied and extensive system of national parks provides the chance for all Americans to explore some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, as well as immerse themselves in the lives of some of the nation’s most significant historical figures and walk in their footsteps. Which is why National Public Lands Day is one that should be marked in bold on your calendar. Occurring every year on the fourth Saturday of September, it is an opportunity to interact with the National Parks System that is not to be missed.
National Public Lands Day was established in 1994 by three Federal Agencies and seven hundred volunteers, with the National Environmental Education Foundation playing a leading role. The aim was to promote conservation and volunteering at the national parks, as well as to encourage more visitors. And since those early beginnings, National Public Lands Day has grown almost exponentially. In 2008, 1.6 million trees were planted in honour of the Civilian Conservation Corps whilst in 2010, it attracted 170,000 volunteers across 2,000 locations. Now National Public Lands Day holds the honour of having inspired the most volunteerism of any single day in the United States.
But how can you take advantage of National Public Lands Day? The most obvious way is by visiting the nearest national park to you. At the vast majority of national parks and monuments, September 28th is one of five ‘fee-free’ days meaning that the parks waive their usual entrance fee. As a result, the 28th is surely the perfect day to make an outing. Particularly for those with children, National Public Lands Day provides a great, cost-effective opportunity to explore nature or history. That said, it would be prudent to make sure that the park you plan to visit is participating before you set off, as well as taking a quick look at the weather forecast.
But there is more to National Public Lands Day than just the chance to visit a park or monument free of charge. The real value of the day comes in the opportunity it provides to make a contribution to the upkeep and preservation of the National Parks System, which is surely one of the United States’ most precious treasures. And on National Public Lands Day, there are chances to volunteer right across the country, allowing you to contribute in a variety of ways, ranging from trail building and maintenance to planting new gardens.
Indeed, the National Environmental Education Foundation is running over 400 volunteer events across the National Parks System this year, meaning that almost no matter where you live, there will be a chance to get involved nearby. And helpfully, they are not too hard to find. Simply go to the National Environmental Education Foundation’s website, where you will find a portal for those looking to volunteer on the front page. From there all you need to do is enter your address or zip code and the website will do the rest. Apart from the volunteering itself that is!
The advantages of volunteering on National Public Lands Day are not inconsiderable. First and foremost, it provides the chance to spend a day at work in nature which, for most of us, is a rare occurrence, but one that is good for both our mental and physical health. Indeed, spending just 20 minutes in nature can make a real difference to your ability to concentrate and focus for the rest of the day. Volunteers will also receive a coupon granting them free entry to a national park on a day of their choosing in return for their efforts.
So with winter now fast approaching and opportunities to get outdoors in the sunshine likely to be few and far between until spring, don’t hesitate to pitch in on National Public Lands Day. Not only will you be contributing to the preservation, maintenance and improvement of one of America’s best assets, you will get all the benefits of a day spent outdoors in nature and away from the many distractions of modern life.