Beyond National Public Lands Day: How to Keep Honoring These Treasures
When was the last time a beautiful, natural location inspired you? America’s public lands offer so much. Trees and forests are the best line of defense against climate change. These environments provide valuable habitats for woodland friends and space for human recreation, relaxation and inspiration. You are a part of the planet. National Public Lands Day in September reminds you of this, but it’s only the start — it’s up to you to continue the legacy of stewardship.
You can keep the Mother Earth love coming all year round. Here’s how to continue to honor National Public Lands Day and the planet long after September ends.
What Is National Public Lands Day
National Public Lands Day began in 1993. It’s a project of the National Environmental Education Foundation in conjunction with the National Parks Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other affiliated agencies. It brings together wilderness lovers of all ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds to celebrate the planet.
This year, hundreds of volunteers convened on September 23, 2023, to hold park cleanups, beautify urban green spaces, clean up litter and plant trees. National Public Lands Day always falls on the fourth Saturday in September, but it doesn’t end at the stroke of midnight. Our remaining wild spaces need year-round help, care and advocacy to continue keeping planet Earth livable, while providing necessary habitats for living things.
Why Public Lands Matter More Than Ever
America’s public lands matter more than ever. One reason is it’s necessary to combat climate change. According to one estimate, if every American planted between 150 and 200 trees each year, it would offset the massive volume of emissions currently produced. Trees act like scrub brushes, taking in carbon dioxide while cleaning other toxins, like formaldehyde, from the air. They return fresh oxygen and even emit substances that boost human immunity.
America’s public lands also provide needed refuge for wildlife — and some humans. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, many people lived in the commons. Finding housing was a matter of building it with the help of your family, friends and neighbors. The privatization of land created homelessness. Today, many people downsizing to van and RV living follow BLM rules to find a free, if temporary, respite when campsite and park prices prove too pricey.
National Public Lands Day isn’t only a day for individual volunteers to show their love for Mother Earth’s remaining wild places. It’s also a valuable opportunity for business leaders to improve their environmental, social and governance scores. ESG is a value measure growing in importance as the global economy shifts. Land protection is an important metric in determining a company’s ESG score, which investors use to decide where to put their money.
What can business leaders do? While it’s too late to sponsor one of this year’s events, you can get a jump on good ad placement for next year by contacting coordinators and inquiring how you can help.
That’s not all you can do. Most Americans spend a lot of time at work and understandably guard their precious recreation hours. A great way to build team camaraderie, improve your corporate image and get recognized in your community is to host a cleanup. Do it during working hours, giving staff members a chance to mix and mingle outside of the office. One day won’t kill your production goals and the benefits you gain could far exceed the few hours spent.
8 Ways for Individuals to Honor the National Public Lands Heritage All Year
Even if you missed National Public Lands Day, the time is always now to help the planet. What can individuals do? Here are eight ideas. Whether you have only a few extra minutes or a full weekend to spare, you can play a role in keeping America beautiful. You’ll also green your footprint and do your part to combat climate change.
There are dozens of volunteer opportunities for celebrating the planet beyond National Public Lands Day. Many states have a board where you can match with approved organizations to participate in cleanups, plant trees or canvass neighborhoods as part of advocacy campaigns.
Keep your eyes open for smaller events, too. For example, your neighborhood playground might host a cleanup and tree-planting ceremony. What if there’s nothing planned near you anytime soon? You could always take the initiative to start a trend. Show up to your nearest park with a trash bag, yellow vest and pair of grabbers — it won’t take long for your neighbors to show interest.
2. Take a Hike
Is your reaction to National Public Lands Day, “I’m too tired to volunteer?” A walk in nature is one of the best ways to relax when you’re stressed to the max. You don’t have to push for distance or speed. Simply let your feet wander along the trail, perhaps taking the time to identify native flora with an app or bringing a pair of binoculars for bird-watching.
Better yet, take your child with you. Introducing your little one to nature early is one of the best ways to ensure they become good environmental stewards as adults.
3. Learn About the Fauna
What animals live in your nearest national park? What about that location makes their habitat unique?
Teachers can honor the planet by having their classes research their favorite animal out of those in nearby wildernesses. They might present their findings by putting on a skit, creating a diorama with explanation cards or creating a short multimedia presentation. A field trip to a nearby national or state park is always a welcome treat for the kiddos — reach out to the rangers to inquire about programs.
4. Study the Flora
America’s public lands are also crucial for protecting various plants. Doing so is essential, as some of them may hold cures for multiple diseases. However, even those without medicinal properties combat another public health threat — climate change. Learning about the life cycle of plants and how rising temperatures affect them is a fabulous way to celebrate.
5. Go Boondocking
What is boondocking? It’s camping in the wilderness outside of a designated campsite. There are no hookups or services — it’s a true “back to the wild” experience.
The number one rule of boondocking is to pack out what you pack in, so bring bags or containers for your trash and recycling. You should also heed these tips to have a safe overnight camp in the wild:
- Leave your itinerary: Tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to return. Use the “send my location” feature on your phone to transmit your GPS coordinates to someone in civilization.
- Pack smart: You’ll need water or purification supplies as the wet stuff gets heavy. You’ll also need shelter, fire-making supplies and defense against bears and other predators. At a minimum, you should have a Lifestraw, bivvy (tent or shelter), warm clothes, extra socks and underwear, a flint and steel, a first aid kit and bear spray, although you can certainly outfit your pack or car with more elaborate (and comfortable) preps.
6. Plant a Tree
Maybe you can’t manage 200 trees this year, but you can plant one. It’s the perfect way to celebrate National Public Lands Day long beyond September, as your tribute will last for years.
Does it seem like apartment dwellers miss out on all the fun? Fortunately, all green growing things take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. You could invest in a drought-resistant yucca or aloe that needs little water for your balcony.
7. Donate to the Cause
You’d love to get into the National Public Lands Day celebrations, but you work that weekend. If you can’t volunteer, you can always donate to the cause. You can give directly to the National Parks Foundation or find an environmental nonprofit you hold dear.
8. Commit to Reducing Paper Use
Most paper still comes from trees, instead of hemp, despite the 2018 Farm Bill’s passage. While manufacturers upgrade and retrofit equipment, you can do your part by reducing your paper use. Invest in a compost bin for your used paper towels. Sign up for paperless statements or billing with your bank and service companies.
Celebrating the Planet Beyond National Public Lands Day
America’s public lands matter more than ever. They serve as the front line of defense against climate change and provide critical habitats for native flora and fauna.
One day a year isn’t enough to honor their importance. However, celebrating America’s public lands is as simple as drawing inspiration from this list and heading out to enjoy the wild places we share any day of the year.