In the early months of the pandemic, I took my two young kids to the urban forest near our house. We had been inside for many days, and I remember watching them playfully climb over the trunk of an old oak that had fallen on our path. Even as schools and playgrounds shuttered, the forest remained a place where we could find a little peace and a little normal.
This weekend, thousands of volunteers will flock to forest, national parks and wildlife refuges across the country in the spirit of “Giving Back Together” as part of National Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 24. Since 1994, the annual day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event in support of local, state and federal public lands. Depending on location and goal, you can help to clean rivers, fix trails, and learn about what Giving Back Together really means by helping to restore your favorite recreation areas for all to enjoy.
The theme of giving back resonates with me as public lands continue to be a place of respite—providing much needed healing through nature after two years of a global pandemic and, well, sometimes just everyday life. During the two years, public lands visitation surged, and so did the problems visitors can sometimes leave behind, like trash, broken signs, or trail damage.
Already, from Sept. 13-14, students gave back through work on the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, which has 230,000 acres spanning New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. With 826 different species of plants and animals, this complex ecosystem will become a living classroom for high school students from Dallam County, Texas and Union County, New Mexico.
“Many high school students in our area have a limited awareness of the Forest Service and the diverse career opportunities available within this agency,” said Carie Howell-Teeter, rangeland management specialist. “Reaching out to high school students is a great way to ensure that we are building a future generation that will give back together.”
The students worked on a variety of restoration projects while learning about sustainable livestock grazing on national grasslands. Equally important, Forest Service employees talked about careers in the in the agency.
For those in the Southwest, from 1-7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, you have another chance to give back -- and learn -- at The Elden Pueblo NPLD event (the link includes a map for directions) from 1-7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25.
Just outside of bustling Flagstaff, Arizona, the Elden Pueblo Archeological site rests among the famed red rocks and pine trees that define the Coconino National Forest. The Elden Pueblo Project, a partnership between the Coconino, the Arizona Natural History Association, and the Arizona Archaeological Society, provides an in-depth, hands-on look at the Sinagua culture that inhabited the region around 1050 A.D.
This year, Elden Pueblo invites the local community to be a part of the science behind archaeological site interpretation, with a focus on stewardship and cultural awareness. Elden Pueblo contains some of the richest density of artifacts in the country and is a Hopi ancestral site.
“National Public Lands Day enables us to bring people together from the rich variety of cultures in the area to learn about the cultural and natural value of these public lands,” said Lisa Deem, project manager for the Elden Pueblo Project. “As you learn, you grow respect for these important places.”
To find other events, search the online National Public Lands Day event locator. With over 500 nationwide volunteer events – and more being added each day – there will be no shortage of opportunities for the thousands of expected volunteers to roll up their sleeves and pitch in on improvement projects in their communities.
National Public Lands Day is also designated as a Fee-Free Day, granting free admission for visitors to national forests, parks, refuges, and rangelands across the US. If you haven’t ventured out to a forest near you, use our online visitor map to find your nearest national forest or grassland. If you want to make reservations for these and other federal lands, visit Recreation.gov.
And don’t forget to join our work to Reimagine Recreation, where we are calling on our employees and everyone in America to help us develop new vision for outdoor recreation on national forest and grasslands.