September 30 marks National Public Lands Day, which is an excellent excuse to take “This Land Is Your Land” quite literally. Over 30% of America’s land is public, including national parks, wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries, and city squares. Here’s what you can do to both celebrate and protect these spaces so they can be enjoyed for years to come.
National Public Lands day is just one of a handful of days that the National Parks Service waives entrance fees — so go ahead, cross another park off your bucket list. Before you hit the trail, be sure to stash gloves and a spare trash bag in your pack so you can pick up any abandoned water bottles, trail bar wrappers, and cigarette butts that cross your path.
Fortunately, the National Environmental Education Foundation is making that easy: Check out their site to explore volunteer opportunities in your area on or around National Public Lands Day. The United By Blue team’s got all our fellow Philadelphians covered with a waterway cleanup on the Delaware River.
Despite the fact that America’s public lands are home to millions of acres of mountains, woods, and wildlife refuges (not to mention 193,500 miles of hiking trails), the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has proposed shrinking the borders of our public spaces.
His proposal will open up lands such as Utah’s Bears Ears and Oregon’s Cascade Siskiyou to mining, drilling, and logging. If you’d prefer to keep these lands wild, you can use the Sierra Club’s template to contact your local congressmen and make your voice heard.
Groups like Leave No Trace offer training on how to minimize your impact on public spaces, including online courses on how to respect wildlife, maintain safe campfires, and dispose of waste properly. They also offer volunteer opportunities for all those interested in preserving public spaces and encouraging responsible outdoor recreation.
If you’re open to a bigger commitment, there are ample opportunities to volunteer year-round. Get involved in the National Parks Service’s Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP) program, sign up for more waterway cleanups (UBB hosts at least two a month), donate your time to the Bureau of Land Management. Some added incentive: If you put in over 250 hours of service to public lands, you’ll be rewarded with a free annual National Parks pass.