Hands on the Land Outdoor Classrooms: Connecting Communities to Local Public Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the US Department of the Interior, is a leader in the Hands on the Land (HOL) program, a national network of outdoor classrooms that actively connects local students, teachers, and communities to their public lands and waterways.  Established in 2001, the HOL network is supported by Partners in Resource Education, a partnership of five Federal agencies—the BLM, US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, US Forest Service, and National Marine Sanctuaries (an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)—and the National Environmental Education Foundation.  Currently, 255 HOL sites reach tens of thousands of students per year, effectively making the HOL network “America’s largest classroom.”

The 93 HOL sites supported by the BLM actively engage local communities in sustained, dynamic education programs developed in cooperation with area schools.  Educating students in the outdoors has proven effective in enhancing learning in almost all disciplines, while also fostering increased awareness and appreciation of the BLM’s multiple-use mission and balanced stewardship of public lands.  Furthermore, many HOL programs have been instrumental in developing sustained, mutually beneficial, and long-lasting relationships between the BLM and local communities.  Such relationships encourage public involvement in the management decisions that affect resources on public lands.

The BLM’s HOL programs expose students and families from diverse communities and backgrounds to a variety of public lands resources and educational opportunities.  Settings range from the desert cliffs of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas to the forests and rivers of Alaska’s Campbell Creek Science Center.  BLM outdoor classrooms also engage students and teachers in hands-on management activities on public lands, such as project work with partner organizations and the State of Wyoming to improve the fishery and aquatic habitat of Savery Creek and the Little Snake River.  HOL programs such as those hosted by Utah’s John Jarvie Historic Ranch focus on thousands of years of human experience on public lands.  Residents and transients in this area have included Native Americans, explorers, “mountain men,” prospectors, and countless pioneers who worked the land for livelihood and survival.

The HOL program is demonstrating the power of real-life outdoor experiences to engage students and their families on America’s public lands; while furthering one of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s top priorities, to create a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt.  With the BLM’s commitment to restoring trust and being a good neighbor, the agency foresees a bright future for HOL as an essential tool for supporting local communities, engaging diverse populations in public land management, and fostering a new generation of conservation stewards.