Kids at the Martin Luther King Jr Park in Atlanta for NPLD 2014

The Shared Experience of National Public Lands Day

This was originally posted on The National Parks Traveler.

For more than a decade, I have had the privilege to witness and participate in the wonderfully communal experience of National Public Lands Day. On this exhilarating day, Americans from all walks of life, families, and neighbors, work side-by-side to give back to the parks and open spaces that give them so much. Now in its 24th year, National Public Lands Day consistently shows that the spirit of good will is alive and well.

National Public Lands Day began in 1993 under the leadership of the National Environmental Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress in 1990 to advance environmental literacy nationwide. NEEF’s mission is to ensure that by the year 2022 no less than 300 million Americans will actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the well-being of the earth and its people.

One of the major ways we do this is by leading National Public Lands Day: the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. Our basic message -- “If you and your family enjoy America’s public lands, please join in the celebration and give back at a park site near you” -- has truly captivated the nation’s deep love for the great outdoors.

National Public Lands Day, sponsored for the 19th year by Toyota, is on September 30 this year. Once again, our federal partners—the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation—will join hundreds of state and local partners to host thousands of varied events going on in every state of the Union. From trail maintenance, to planting, to trash pick-up and more, volunteers of all interests and abilities will roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side to care for our public lands. The day also features a variety of hikes, bike rides, community festivals, paddling excursions, and other fun activities—all set on the backdrop of the country’s public lands and waterways.

For example, at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, the only national park dedicated to aquatic plants, more than 200 volunteers from the Washington, D.C., area will help clean up the pond and prepare them for winter. Places like Kenilworth have a great but limited staff. Volunteers accomplish in one day what would take them months. While the work can be exhausting, the day leaves people with a true sense of accomplishment. And one can burn a few calories in the process, improving health while giving back.

Diane and others at the Atlanta NPLD event

Participation in NEEF’s NPLD is a winning enterprise on all levels: Families are healthier, children develop a greater appreciation of nature, communities become stronger, and businesses help to create positive change. Often, people who previously did not know where their public spaces are come out to join in the fun and discover a wonderful green space they can return to and enjoy throughout the year. Toyota’s exceptional support of National Public Lands Day serves as a prime example of how a strong, sustained public private partnership can translate into millions of taxpayer dollars saved. In 2016, a record 200,000+ volunteers at more than 2,600+ sites across the country contributed an estimated $18.5 million in volunteer services.

To encourage people to join the celebration, NPLD is a fee-free day for all federal public lands across America and many state parks. Whether you volunteer, enjoy some boating, hiking, fishing, or camping, or simply learn more about your public lands and the plants and wildlife that live there, everyone is invited to take this day to enjoy and celebrate the great outdoors.

Plus, everyone who attends an NPLD event at a federal land site gets a coupon good for free entry to any public land managed by one of the federal partners any time before NPLD 2018.

Our public lands are a gift that fills us all with nature, culture, and history. National Public Lands Day is an opportunity to say thank you and share our gratitude for these public places we love.

We hope you will join us.