Public lands are managed by federal agencies but belong to and are enjoyed by everyone. These special places provide us with outdoor recreation, education and relaxation.
National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. Held every year on the fourth Saturday of September, National Public Lands Day brings together individuals, students, families and groups of volunteers to help maintain and restore America’s treasured places.
Volunteering is a way for the public to give something back to these places that mean so much to us. On National Public Lands Day, admission and entry fees for federal recreation areas are waived, so that everyone can enjoy them. The beauty and importance of public lands inspire us all, and we hope to see you outdoors for this year’s National Public Lands Day.
Whether it’s volunteering for National Public Lands Day or throughout the year, below are some of the creative ways you can help support your public lands.
Trash often collects along roadsides and waterways on public lands. Fortunately, volunteers can help clean it all up. From pulling mounds of plastic bags captured by trash traps on our country's waterways to removing tons of debris from coastlines, lakeshores and rivers, thousands of volunteers are protecting waterways and wildlife by removing garbage.
Every extra set of hands helps, so this is a great opportunity for people with limited time to share. You’ll see immediate results and can easily volunteer alongside your friends.
The sights and sounds of public lands inspire artists in residency programs across the country. Whether you are gaining inspiration from the rocky formations at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, or overlooking the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains from the Skyland Lodge in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, or working in a contemporary studio overlooking the stone-lined fields at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, these programs provide artists with unique opportunities to create works of art in natural and cultural settings. Artists often lead workshops, provide onsite public presentations and share their work at local exhibits. Programs vary, but residencies in a variety of creative media are typically two to four weeks in length and most include lodging.
Invasive species—nonnative plants and animals that cause harm to the environment, economy or human health—have serious impacts on public lands. They attack healthy ecosystems, damage cultural resources and can interfere with visitors’ experiences on public lands. Identifying and removing these destructive plants and animals is a huge challenge that can only be met with the support of volunteers across the country. Alone or in groups, volunteers patrol and protect public lands from invaders like quagga mussels in Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada.
There are lots of ways to contribute to scientific research about the natural world and in parks across the country. Public lands volunteers can combine their passion for nature with a research field. From counting monarch butterflies to studying plant growth and tweeting earthquake locations, citizen science empowers the public to help scientists conduct and inform research. Bird watchers can help with bird counts and migration analysis, and dragon fly larva collectors can support mercury analysis. No lab coat needed!
Campground hosts are often thought of as the "eyes and ears" of campgrounds. They provide information regarding campground facilities and activities, wildlife sightings and safety concerns. Hosts staff visitor centers, provide upkeep of campgrounds, assist with the selection of campsites, and camp registration and fee payment. Many campgrounds have RV hookups or bunkhouses for hosts and often supply a uniform. Because of training requirements, many campground host positions require a minimum time commitment. The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all welcome campground hosts, making it a great way to enjoy a variety of public lands while serving the public.
On public lands with miles of roads and trails, bike patrol and trail volunteers help protect landscapes and increase visitor safety. Greeting people with a smile, volunteers expand the reach of park and refuge staff, and assist visitors with information, directions and first aid. Along the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park’s 184-mile towpath, bike volunteers identify hazards and damage to trails and bridges, while avid hikers patrol the Billy Goat trail. Bike. Trail patrol volunteers should be physically fit, have excellent communication skills and be comfortable operating without direct supervision.
At battlefields and historic sites across the country, living history volunteers help immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the past. These specially trained volunteers often wear period-era clothing and share stories from the perspective of the people who shaped our nation’s history. Passion for history and good storytelling abilities are a must. If you volunteer at a park like Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Maryland or Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia, you might even get to fire a cannon!
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities for people who enjoy boating and fishing. Volunteers for the Big River Journey at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in Minnesota teach students about the biology and history of this mighty waterway. At Chattahoochee National Recreation Area in Georgia, volunteers in canoes clean up the river and monitor water quality. Are you on board?
Public lands are known for being the best places in the country to hike, bike and horseback ride. Keeping thousands of miles of trails open and marked requires an army of volunteers. They blaze trails, remove hazards, repair bridges and post signs. In some parks and wildlife refuges, volunteer groups adopt a section of a trail and take on the responsibility of maintaining it. Other trails are restored in a single day by a large volunteer blitz. Trail volunteers also help with visitor information and wildlife reporting as they work in the field. If you’re interested in getting some exercise, supporting public lands and enjoying stunning scenery, it’s easy to find a trail near you, such as the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin or the North Country National Scenic Trail, which spans multiple eight states.
National Fish Hatcheries managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are vital for conserving both imperiled fish species and game fish populations within the United States. At these facilities, volunteers work alongside experts to feed fish, clean raceways, transport fish, conduct sample counts and maintain habitat. It can be a smelly, messy job, but conserving fisheries and inspiring the next generation of anglers is worth it.
Supported by a partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak, Trails & Rails volunteers help train passengers learn about rail history and the special places along their route. Volunteer guides often attend multi-day training sessions to learn the ins and outs of this unique kind of interpretation and education. If you love train travel, this program is a great experience for the volunteers and the passengers alike!
No matter where and how you volunteer, your time and effort is appreciated. As thanks for your service, volunteers may receive a special volunteer public lands pass.
If you’re able to volunteer your time, find volunteer opportunities in your area at www.volunteer.gov.
Also, be sure to tag the Department of the Interior on Twitter as you explore our nation’s public lands on National Public Lands Day.