On September 23, volunteers will meet in Baltimore’s Lower Herring Run Park in celebration of National Public Lands Day (NPLD). Participating in NPLD has become a tradition for Friends of Herring Run Parks (FHRP), a community-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the 375-acre park’s preservation and engagement with the local community.
Amanda Cunningham is a Baltimore native who currently serves as treasurer on FHRP’s volunteer-led board of directors. FHRP’s annual NPLD park clean-up is one of their biggest events of the year. In 2019—their largest clean-up to date—150 volunteers worked for 600 total hours to remove 42,000 pounds of trash from the park.
“It amazes me how many people will show up on a weekend to help clean the park,” said Cunningham. “People are looking for meaningful activity.”
Are you interested in making a difference during the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public lands? This year, the theme for NPLD is Giving Back Together. There’s still time to find a NPLD event to participate in, or even plan one of your own. To help you get started, Cunningham shared 10 tips to host a successful NPLD event.
10 Tips to Host a Successful NPLD Event
Don’t wait to start planning.
Give yourself plenty of time to organize your event. If you need help with the basics, NEEF’s Skill Building Webinar series will give you the tips you need to plan, produce, and promote your event.
Coordinate with local groups for a larger impact.
FHRP partners with other local organizations working to protect the Chesapeake Bay region, as well as groups like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the area’s business community. Designate one person as the point of contact for each organization to minimize confusion. Other groups may have access to equipment or expertise that you can tap into.
“Hosting the event as part of NEEF’s larger NPLD helps participants feel part of something bigger,” said Cunningham.
Communicate with the park manager.
If you are planning to host a park clean-up, coordinate with your local parks department or whatever agency is responsible for managing the land. That way you won’t be surprised by any permitting requirements. They may also be able to provide resources to help with the event, like dumpsters or loaders. Demonstrate that your group has a plan and will be a reliable partner for the park manager.
Caption: Volunteers wait by dumpsters for collected trash at the Lower Herring Run Park NPLD event.
Have a detailed plan for your event.
Make it easy for volunteers to check in and get started cleaning. For example, after signing in when they arrive, FHRP volunteers are divided into groups to clean specific areas. Plan out your operations ahead of time, including where water, snacks, and parking will be located. “Help people get to where they need to be quickly and efficiently,” said Cunningham.
Help your volunteers be successful by picking up filled trash bags directly from their work site and providing them with new, empty bags so they don’t have to struggle to carry heavy bags over long distances.
Get the word out early.
Social media is a useful tool to get the word out to potential volunteers far and wide. If you are hosting a park clean-up, schedule a series of posts about the site you are going to clean, such as any wildlife that frequent the park or how the area will be utilized once it is cleaned. You can use NEEF’s NPLD Promotional Toolkit if you need help getting started. And don’t forget to tag NEEF in your social posts!
Create a flier that can be printed so people can post copies in their offices and on community message boards. Cunningham also recommends sending out a “save the date” email ahead of time so people can mark it on their calendars. Reach out to your local recreation and parks department to get on their official event calendar.
Utilize everyone’s skill sets.
Think of all the tasks you need to accomplish before the event and consider the skill sets of your core group of organizers. Maybe someone has great connections with local media or has an outgoing personality and is great at organizing people. Then, delegate. “Make sure everyone has a job and feels connected to the end goal,” said Cunningham.
Ensure safety is a top priority.
“Safety is number one,” said Cunningham. Give a short safety briefing at the start of the event. Volunteers should wear work clothes and closed-toe shoes. FHRP provides gloves and brings some extra-long sleeve shirts in case volunteers need them. Keep everyone hydrated. Provide jugs of water and encourage participants to bring reusable water bottles.
Caption: Volunteers working the welcome tent and safety station at the Lower Herring Run Park NPLD event.
Make it fun for the whole family.
Consider options to build other activities into your park clean-up that the whole family can enjoy. Perhaps you can provide an area for younger kids to play games or participate in arts and crafts—and stay safe—while their parents are working.
Measure your impact.
Start by making sure that the area you are going to clean up is well-defined. FHRP specifically focuses on wilder, less-utilized parts of the park that can become neglected because they are out of sight, out of mind.
Designate a central area as a place to collect trash and debris. “Seeing the pile grow helps people see that they made a difference,” said Cunningham. Take before and after photos and a big group photo at the end of the day. Track how many total pounds of trash you collect and share on social media. As a general rule for estimation, one trash bag tends to contain about 20 pounds.
Caption: Volunteers counting full trash bags collected during the Lower Herring Run Park NPLD event.
Say thank you!
Give lots of shout-outs on social media and in your email newsletter to the organizations and volunteers who helped make the day successful.
How to Get Involved in NPLD
The annual NPLD park clean-up has become a successful event for FHRP. Ready to start your own NPLD tradition? As Cunningham’s experience shows, NPLD events are great for building community and caring for your local green space.
Use NEEF’s NPLD event locator to find a variety of events near you. Volunteer service projects are a big part of nearly every NPLD event, but almost all events have additional complementary activities. Sign up for NEEF’s email alerts to stay updated on NPLD.