On Saturday, September 22, volunteers pitched in on public lands throughout the country and at sites in all 50 states as part of the 25th annual National Public Lands Day (NPLD). Organized each year by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), National Public Lands Day promotes the connection between people and the environment by inviting everyone to get outside. With support from NPLD national corporate sponsor Toyota, eight federal agency partners, hundreds of state and local partners, and dozens of nonprofit organizations, National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest single-day volunteer effort.
Each year, NPLD volunteers contribute nearly $17 million to the nation's public lands. By connecting people to their local parks and other public lands, NEEF aims to inspire people to continue to care for these lands throughout the year.
“National Public Lands Day is a celebration of all the amazing benefits these natural places have to offer—and it is a reminder of how important it is for all of us to take part in stewarding these outdoor spaces so we can continue to enjoy them in the future,” said Meri-Margaret Deoudes, president of NEEF.
This year's NPLD Signature site was the Big Thicket National Preserve. Big Thicket suffered extensive damages last summer when Hurricane Harvey blew through the 113,000-acre site in Southeast Texas. Over the past year, park officials and volunteers have mounted a steady clean-up effort, but some areas still need help.
NEEF joined National Parks Service (NPS) staff and more than 80 NPLD volunteers with plans to clear debris from a 90-acre area of the park known as Pine Island Bayou. However, the weather did not cooperate, and heavy rain and lightning caused the NPS staff to cancel the event shortly before the scheduled kick-off time as a safety precaution.
Proving a resilient spirit, volunteers were bussed to the visitor center for snacks, lunch and presentations from representatives from NEEF, Gulf States Toyota, Toyota North America, the National Park Service and the Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust. Part of the event included a check presentation for $20,000 to the Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust.
To support ongoing stewardship efforts on public lands throughout the year, Toyota partnered with NEEF to award $200,000 in restoration and resilience grants to sites throughout the country, including a $20,000 grant to Big Thicket Heritage Trust to support the NPLD event as well as ongoing clean-up of the area.
“National Public Lands Day is a great day to bring our team members together and do some very positive things, but these grants support continued improvement, which matches Toyota's philosophy: we always want to improve,” said Kevin Butt, Toyota Motor North America's general manager of environmental sustainability. “By supporting long-term recovery, we aim to build the resiliency of these lands over time.”
Even though the rain put a damper on the day's events, Big Thicket has plenty of volunteer events planned to bring people back to volunteer or simply visit.
"Volunteers are a valuable resource for all National Park Service units," said Jason Ginder, Park Ranger at Big Thicket National Preserve. "Whether a person comes out and volunteers for a day or on a weekly or monthly basis, each one increases our capability to care for these important public lands."
Big Thicket is only one of the sites that will receive restoration and resilience grants. NEEF plans to announce the other recipients in early October.