Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Volunteers show up and ‘tune in’ to celebrate National Public Lands Day

Patrick Lair
Office of Communication

This year, people found both new and traditional ways to celebrate the public places they care about as thousands of people showed up for National Public Lands Day events across the country. More than 50 events took place across Forest Service units, some virtual gatherings and some traditional in-person events.

The Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie, about 50 miles south of Chicago, wrapped up a yearlong Woodsy Owl & Friends iNaturalist and eBird mobile app challenge, hosting a webinar where participants could share their own photography along with some best practices. They also showcased the winning photos from the Woodsy Owl & Friends 50th Birthday Photo Challenge.

“A review panel of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie volunteers painstakingly reviewed dozens of photos that were shared in the photo challenge,” said Veronica Hinke, a public affairs officer. “They looked at lighting, composition and other photography basics; and they also considered how each photo told a story of the prairie.”

A picture of a coyote howling in the middle of a small two-track road.
Caption: Howling Coyote on Henslow Trail, the winning photo from the “Woodsy Owl & Friends” 50th Birthday Photo Challenge on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Photo courtesy of Carl Pixel.

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie volunteer program is managed through a Forest Service partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

Along with the contest results, each photographer shared the backstory of their winning capture. Carl Pixel, the winner of the overall contest, described his photo, Howling Coyote on Henslow Trail.

“I was already leaving when I heard commotion about 100 yards away from me on the trail,” he said. “He just started howling. It was a little dark, so I was keeping my distance. As quickly as I could, I pulled out my camera and knelt on the ground and took three or four photos.” 
On the Humboldt-Toyaibe National Forest, several hundred volunteers showed up to “Green the Mountain 2021,” an event organized by the Southern Nevada Conservancy to clean up some well-loved and well-used canyons of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, 35 miles west of Las Vegas.

“Over a million visitors rely on the Spring Mountains to escape the heat and noise of the Las Vegas valley each year,” according to the event website. “After 14 years of collecting over 50 TONS of litter in the Spring Mountains, the Go Mt Charleston Team has been working to find ways to manage the litter issue and help visitors dispose of their trash properly.”

A picture showing several volunteers with plastic trash bags and wearing gloves from picking up trash out in the forest.
Caption: Volunteers at ‘Green the Mountain 2021’ collect trash at the Sawmill Picnic Area in Spring Mountains National Recreation Area on the Humboldt-Toyaibe National Forest. (USDA Forest Service photo by Stephanie Merrill)

More than 300 volunteers attended the event, of all ages, with diverse affiliations that included Boy Scout troops, senior groups, and corporations. They collected more than 4,500 pounds of trash, planted 100 rabbitbrush shrubs, and pulled invasive weeds on six acres.

“We celebrated afterward at Lee Canyon ski area where volunteers were treated to lunch, a scenic chair lift ride, and took home Woodsy Owl gift bags full of Woodsy swag and more from our sponsors,” said Leonie Mowat, director of operations and communications for the Southern Nevada Conservancy.   “During lunch, I led hundreds of volunteers in a joyous singing of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ for Woodsy!”

Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day brings out thousands of volunteers every year to help restore and improve public lands around the country. This year, there were more than 500 events that engaged over 50,000 volunteers, and the events are still ongoing. The last day to host an NPLD event registered through the National Environmental Education Foundation is Oct. 9.

A picture of a person in a grassy field holding up an invasive plant.
Reyna Butler, an event coordinator with the Public Lands Interpretive Association in northern Arizona, helped manage an event on the Kaibab National Forest to collect trash and pull invasive weeds around Kaibab Lake. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Shevat )

Site managers are at the heart of every successful National Public Lands Day volunteer event. They are responsible for hosting the events and overseeing everything from event planning and execution to post-event wrap-up. Anyone can register, plan, and promote a National Public Lands Day event, using resources from the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Volunteers have always made significant, year-round contributions to national forests and grasslands. Between 1972 and 2019, more than 3.28 million people provided 141.1 million hours with Forest Service units, which equates to 78,300 full-time employees, or about three years of the Forest Service workforce combined, and they have provided services valued at $1.85 billion.