Two volunteers holding trash bag, children looking at seashells, volunteer holding trash, volunteers posing by sign

NPLD Story Wall


Lebanon Hills Regional Park is the largest park in the Dakota County, Minnesota park system, covering over 2,000 acres.  It is located in Dakota County, which was once covered by a mosaic of prairie, savanna, woodland and forest and was home to thousands of plant and animal species. But due to fire suppression, buckthorn invasion, and other factors, many of the wooded areas in the park are dense and not very diverse. Lebanon Hills is missing open woodland and savanna habitat types.

The event managers leveraged the excitement about the 25th annual National Public lands Day to engage volunteers in a major on-going project to restore more than 1,100 acres of prairie and forest within Lebanon Hills Regional Park and plant more than 3,000 new trees and shrubs.

“Our volunteers help us complete projects that we would not be able to do due to capacity issues in terms of employee time, finances, and scheduling” said Garrett Zaffke, Community Relations and Volunteer Services Coordinator for Dakota County, “Our volunteers don’t just get great work done, they also become ambassadors who recruit and promote future events and initiatives.”

mother and daughter posing by buck of pulled weeds

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, used National Public Lands Day as an opportunity to host its first ever Family Volunteer Day at the zoo, where they welcomed 25 children of all ages and their caregivers to join in the gardens and learn about and remove invasive plant species at the zooís nature boardwalk.

"Providing opportunities for children to give back and volunteer their time at the zoo supports our mission of connecting people with nature and fostering a community who will care for and protect our environment both now and in the future," said Betsy Maher, director of volunteer services at Lincoln Park Zoo. "Families rolled up their sleeves and worked alongside our Nature Boardwalk gardening volunteers and horticulture staff as we removed invasive golden rod."

According to Joe Rothleuthner, the Zoo's director of horticulture, removing invasive species is key to keeping the grounds beautiful.
"The work of pulling invasive plants and weeds from natural areas, like Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, allows more delicate plants to persist and for us to maintain a high level of diversity and complexity in the ecosystem for wildlife to thrive," he said. "Through the work achieved on National Public Lands Day will have more beautiful wildflowers, and a better home for resident and visiting animals."

NEEF Board Member Megan Reilly Cayten and her son

In only 8 minutes, NPLD volunteers went from bustling lower Manhattan to a bucolic, verdant landscapes with open spaces and walking paths.

A short  ferry ride took Megan Reilly Cayten and her son, to Governor's Island, where they joined 120 volunteers in clearing pathways, removing invasive species, mulching trees and cutting back overgrowth. 

Volunteering is important to Cayten and her special connection with Governor's Island was part of what moved her to pitch in. 

"I have been going to Governors Island regularly for a decade...On Governors Island, you are minutes from Manhattan but a world apart. You can run free, get soaked by sea spray, and catch caterpillars. It is a magical place. 
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to give back to a place that nourishes us, and in a concrete way. My son and I were deseeding wildflowers for planting, and next spring when the Black-eyed Susans are blooming in Hammock Grove, we will know we had a hand in it. Volunteering also offers a sense of community - we met a lot of great people, and had good conversations while we were working - and is an excuse to get outside and enjoy a gorgeous day.

In a more everyday way, a connection to the natural world is vital to my health and happiness. I have lived in big cities all over the world, and can tell you what the tree looked like outside my bedroom window - if I was so lucky - in every one."


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