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18 Ways To Celebrate National Public Lands Day (2023)

This article is presented in partnership with Parks Project

Parks Project, through advocacy & education, aims to teach the world about the importance of protecting parklands around the country. Since 2014, Parks Project has donated over $2.5 million to Parklands, while inspiring the next generation of national park lovers.

Check out Parks Project and join a great cause today.

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This article is presented in partnership with Parks Project

National Public Lands Day falls on September 23, 2023. The holiday invites us to enjoy nature’s beauty, protect treasured natural spaces, and continue to advocate for a more sustainable future. Whether through volunteering, events, or continued education, this celebration fuels America’s passion for public lands. 

National public lands include a lot of different protected natural environments in America. From national parks, memorials, and monuments, to wildlife refuges, conservation areas, trails, wilderness areas, seashores, lakeshores, and more, public lands are actually all around us! 

In fact, nearly 40% of the United States is public land, supported by taxpayers and managed by federal, state, or local government. The leaders of these government agencies are the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Created by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), National Public Lands Day aims to celebrate the connection between people and their community’s natural spaces and encourage the use of those spaces for education, recreation, and health.

2023 marks the 30th National Public Lands Day, which has grown into the largest single-day volunteer event for public lands. 

Whether through volunteer initiatives, fee-free park visits, or educational opportunities, people around the country spend this day together in stewardship of the natural world. 

While it’s important to learn more about and support the preservation of our public lands every single day, it’s helpful to have somewhere to start. We’ve created a guide on how to celebrate National Public Lands Day this year.

By the way, some of the links in this article (like books!) are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Activities and Ideas: How To Recognize National Public Lands Day

Learn

Watch a documentary about our public lands.

While you might already be a fan of Yellowstone or have hiked through Yosemite, you likely will never be able to fully engage with every part of America’s vast, expansive public lands. 

Documentaries may not be the same as lacing up your hiking boots, but they still give us an amazing lens into these spaces and help us learn more about the world around us. 

Plus, they invite us to learn more about the threats public lands face and how we can play a part in protecting and preserving them.

Check out a few of our favorites:

  • “Public Trust: The Fight for America’s Public Lands” (Patagonia Films)
  • “The Ground Between Us” (Films For Action)
  • “This Land” (Vimeo)
  • “This American Land” (PBS)
  • “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (PBS)
  • “Our Great National Parks” (Netflix)

Read books about public lands and national parks.

OK, picture this. You’re hanging out on a little picnic blanket in one of your beautiful, protected public parks. You have a snack, and you’re cracking open a new book.

What better way to enjoy the day than reading about public lands while enjoying public lands? 

Here are a few recs to bring to the party:

  • “Our Common Ground: A History of America’s Public Lands” by John D. Leshy (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks” by Dennis Drabelle (Bookshop) (Amazon
  • “This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis Devoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild” by Nate Schweber (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands” by Greg M. Peters (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “That Wild Country: An Epic Journey Through the Past, Present, and Future of America’s Public Lands” by Mark Kenyon (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “The Hike” by Allison Farrell (Bookshop) (Amazon)
  • “You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks” by Evan Turk (Bookshop) (Amazon)

Learn more about the history behind America’s public lands.

All U.S. public lands are the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples and tribal nations. Prior to western colonization, these lands were managed sustainably for thousands of years by these communities.

Once American settlers began their western conquests, many lands were transferred to the ownership of individuals, states, and corporations, contributing greatly to systems of unwise development and extraction. 

However, the establishment of many of the aforementioned federal agencies between the late 19th century and early-to-mid 20th century led to improved management and protection of these lands, including the return of ownership to some Indigenous groups. 

America’s public lands are still in danger and require constant stewardship and protection, as we work among government agencies, local organizers, and nature itself to improve and maintain these sacred grounds. 

Learn more about the history and timeline of public lands through a guide from the Public Lands Foundation, and be sure to think critically and through an intersectional lens as you consider the implications and responsibility of land ownership.

Learn what Indigenous lands you live on.

Like we said, all American lands are stolen Indigenous lands. It is vital that we are aware of our position in this history — and in our present-day communities.

Explore an interactive map to learn about the Indigenous lands you occupy

Learn how to properly conduct an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement.

Once you have a better understanding of the lands you occupy, you can begin to conduct Indigenous Land Acknowledgements — which is especially vital for any National Public Lands Day event you may be a part of.

Learn more using NEEF’s detailed guide on conducting land acknowledgments

Read and share quotes about the environment.

There’s a quote for everything. Explore our roundup of the best national park quotes, quotes from Yvon Chouinard, and even quotes about trees as you celebrate this holiday.

Learn how to #RecreateResponsibly.

A huge element of National Public Lands Day is the commitment to take better care of our natural environment — and, in turn — each other. This is the principle behind #RecreateResponsibly, a campaign that invites people to be more thoughtful stewards of nature. 

Whether it’s learning how to camp, hammock, or adventure responsibly, there are guides and resources to make your experiences fun and safe at the same time.

Take Action

Clean up your local public lands.

What better way to practice your land and ec0- stewardship than cleaning up the public lands or waterways in your own community?

Grab a clean-up kit and pick up litter, help spread the word about the importance of responsible park usage, or even reach out to your local parks department to inquire about improved recycling or waste management options. 

Better yet, make this a regular part of your routine! Can you bring a small pale or clean-up bag on a daily walk? Or can you rally some friends for a monthly clean-up near you? Make today’s actions the start of something even more impactful. 

Become a volunteer at a local or national park (or protected space).

While some of the most popular parks sure get their share of foot traffic, there’s one thing every protected natural space needs: more volunteers.

Whether you sign up to volunteer with the National Park Service, or you reach out to a local wildlife refuge or conservation space, your time, energy, and skills are vital to the protection of America’s wildest spaces. 

Donate to organizations that protect national parks and public lands.

Projects, nonprofits, and funds of all kinds exist to maintain and protect our public lands. Consider contributing to some of them during National Public Lands Day.

Urge your elected officials to protect public lands and national parks.

Yeah, that means no more oil pipelines. 

Contact your representatives to urge them to take action to protect public lands by resisting the construction of oil pipelines, holding corporations accountable, establishing robust sustainability and conservation laws, and more. 

You can also simply let your representatives know that you value your local and national public lands and want to see your elected officials initiate policies to protect them.

Recruit others to volunteer by sharing about National Public Lands Day on social media.

Volunteering is always a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s even better when shared with others. Mobilize your friends and community members to join you in a volunteer event or initiative!

NEEF has loads of resources you can share on social media and within your own organizations to ramp up the energy. And you can share a link to our article, too!

Celebrate

Mark your calendar for this year’s Free National Park Days.

Every year, the National Parks Service NPS announces a number of “fee-free days” to ensure that our national parks are accessible to everyone. 

The good news? 310 national park destinations are already free every day.

The even better news? National Public Lands Day is a fee-free day across all national parks!

Visit a national park.

Now that you know it costs you nothing but perhaps a tank of gas and a couple of granola bars to visit some of the country’s most historic national parks, this is your opportunity! 

Google recently unveiled some new updates to Google Maps to help users identify and navigate through all of the best “must-visit attractions” at each park. Plus, the National Park Service has tons of resources to help ensure you plan ahead and have the trip of a lifetime.

Visit a virtual park.

We’ve established that there are plenty of state public parks across the country, but we also know that a very real nature gap exists in America, keeping access to nature inaccessible to many communities. 

Although public lands should be easy to access no matter where you live, you can still engage with nature by taking a virtual visit to a national park right from your computer. 

Attend a National Public Lands Day event.

National Public Lands Day brings individuals, families, and community groups together to help restore and improve our beloved outdoor spaces. According to NEEF, over the last decade, over a million volunteers have donated nearly 5 million hours of their time for public lands on this special holiday!

Join this huge community by attending a National Public Lands Day volunteer event or celebration.

You can find a full directory of events through NEEF’s interactive map.

Shop from brands that support the preservation of national parks and public lands. 

If you’re in the market for some new gear for your next adventure, there are plenty of different outdoorsy brands and companies that donate proceeds to national parks and public land preservation. 

Check out our full gift guide for national park lovers to get started! 

Read good news about public lands.

Part of the fun of celebrating public lands also means celebrating good news about public lands. 

We’re all about good news at Good Good Good — and we even create an Environment Edition of our Goodnewspaper every year! 

Plus, we have a whole library of good national park news stories, Indigenous good news stories, and good climate news to inspire you, too.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the theme of National Public Lands Day in 2023?

The 2023 theme of National Public Lands Day is “30 Years of Care and Community.” Along with traditional annual events, like park and river clean-ups, tree planting events, hikes, and more, NEEF plans to celebrate all the progress made within the past three decades.

What exactly does National Public Lands Day encourage?

National Public Lands Day encourages volunteerism across America’s public lands and increases environmental stewardship among people of all ages and abilities. The holiday also aims to foster community, teamwork, and the enjoyment of public lands for education, recreation, and well-being.

What are the hashtags for National Public Lands Day?

For organizations posting about National Public Lands Day on social media, the best hashtags to use are #NPLD, #NPSVolunteer, #MyParkStory, and #NationalPublicLandsDay. You can also use general national parks hashtags to help ensure your post finds more parks-lovers.

What are national public lands?

Public lands are areas of land (or water) that are owned collectively by U.S. citizens and managed by government agencies — and local Indigenous groups or tribal nations. They include national and state parks, protected areas, wildlife refuges, ceremonial grounds, ancestral homelands, and more.

Why is it important to protect public lands?

Public lands are vital to sustainable and healthy ecosystems. Protecting these lands protects history and cultures, as well as wildlife and their habitats, natural beauty, and unextracted natural resources. They also contribute to the economy, drawing in visitors across the country.

What are the biggest threats to public lands?

There are a number of threats facing public lands, like climate change, land ownership disputes, fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation. Protecting public lands means ensuring they are in the hands of trusted stewards who will advocate for their safety and preservation.

What percent of the U.S. is public lands? 

Over 40% of the United States is made up of public lands. This equates to about 640 million acres of land, and about 760 million acres of submerged land and water. These lands are managed by federal agencies, state governments, and tribal nations.

What state has the most public lands?

While there are public lands across the country, the Western side of America has the highest percentage of federal land. Of these states, Nevada is the state with the most federal land. A little over 80% of the state’s landmass, or 56,262,210 acres, is federally managed.

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September 22, 2023 7:34 AM
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