How to Protect Your Local Public Lands

It’s important and fun to give back to the places you love – there’s even a holiday dedicated to it!

Over one third of the U.S. is public lands—landscapes intended for all to enjoy. These places are managed by various local, state, tribal and federal agencies, yet we can all be stewards of the places we care about by how we act while visiting them and actively participating in their preservation through volunteering. We’re here to tell you that gathering with others to lend a hand is actually really fun! Follow these tips on how you can care for your local public lands.

Step 1: Find Your Local Public Lands

Whether it’s a state park, local land trust or a federally-managed land like a National Wildlife Refuge, there are public lands near you. Learn more about the kinds of lands that make up our 840+ million-acre public land system in the Unites States, why you should visit them and what makes each unique. Some easy finders based on your location are:

Step 2. Learn About Those Lands

As part of respectfully and intentionally engaging with a landscape it is important to learn about the history and people of the area, what activities can occur there and how it is managed. Depending on the location there may be visitor centers, interpretive centers or land managers able to help with this onsite, but it doesn’t hurt to do some research ahead of time too.  

The first step is learning about the Indigenous history and cultures of the specific lands you’re visiting since Native communities have stewarded the lands that now make up the United States since time immemorial. Here are 6 ways you can respectfully engage with Native communities for your outing.

You can also get to know the people and organizations who are protecting the place. For federally-managed lands like National Parks or National Forests you can peruse the federal agencies dedicated to each specific landscape and what activities they are responsible for. Each national land also has at least one official nonprofit partner and many additional organizations supporting its preservation. For example, the National Park Service’s official nonprofit partner is the National Park Foundation. A quick search using “friends of” along with the public land you’re visiting should give you a sense of what local or regional organizations are supporting preservation and recreation of the area as well. Here’s a quick guide on additional individuals who may be playing a role.

Step 3: Tread Lightly

How you interact with a place and others you may encounter while recreating determines whether the impacts from your visit are positive or negative. You can take steps to mindfully engage with the land and those around you. Here are some tips:

Step 4: Get Involved!

Volunteers are critical in supporting the organizations that care for our public lands. Sign up for a volunteer event or citizen science project with the nonprofit organization or friends of the local public lands you found. You can also donate funds or equipment and even your expertise – if you’re unable to do trail work but are a social media wiz maybe they are looking for volunteers to help with their communications. Think about the unique talents and resources you have and don’t be afraid to reach out and share your interest with the organization. You’ll not only be giving back but meeting new people and joining a community of folks with whom you share a passion.

National Public Lands Day

On the fourth Saturday in September every year, thousands of volunteers come out for our nation’s largest coordinated volunteer day on our public lands – National Public Lands Day (NPLD).  Since 1994 the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) has organized National Public Lands Day as a time for volunteers of all ages and abilities to come together to celebrate and give back to our nation’s public lands. NPLD activities include plantings, invasive species removal, trash pick-ups and more. Additionally, it is a fee-free day at all National Parks.

This year on September 23, NEEF is celebrating 30 years of NPLD and their commitment to mobilizing volunteers in creating a safer and healthier world now and for future generations. You can join the over 70,000 volunteers who will be rolling up their sleeves and enjoying the benefits of gathering outdoors! Find a NEEF NPLD event near you.

This year, to celebrate NPLD, Public Lands is hosting volunteer events in each of our seven communities that offer ways to give back for various experience and ability levels along with food, music and more! Sign up here to join the fun!   

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.