For more than 100 years, the USDA Forest Service has cared for the lands with the help and support of the people we serve. Countless organizations and individuals have devoted their time and talents to that cause, and all their efforts, no matter how large or small, are both valued and essential to the long-term well-being of our national forests and grasslands.
Sharing stewardship of these lands is at the core of who we are, and the Forest Service is made up of people who have dedicated their lives and passion to their care.
But passionate, shared stewardship is hardly limited to institutions like the Forest Service. That is why it has long been our policy to support robust volunteer programs to meet our shared goals of healthy, sustainable and productive national forests and grasslands.
National Public Lands Day stands as one of the most longstanding volunteer efforts we have supported. For 26 years, National Public Lands Day has been the single largest volunteer event dedicated to local, state and federally managed public lands. Hundreds of thousands of people come together on the last Saturday in September to take part in service and education projects across the nation. This year, National Public Lands Day falls on Sept. 28, though events can take place throughout the month and into October.
Last year, 2,500 project sites hosted nearly 200,000 volunteers who did everything from cleaning up trash, to planting trees and native plants and removing non-native invasive species, to repairing and maintaining roads and trails and even engaging in conservation educations programs, Citizen Science activities and walks led by health care providers in support of nature-based connections to human health. In years past, this work has resulted in work valued at tens of millions of dollars. This year, volunteers are expected to do work valued at $18 million, and we not only hope to help make that possible, but to also do a great deal more.
Every National Public Lands Day has a theme. Our theme this year, “Connecting to Nature through Service,” aims to put the American people in touch with their forests and grasslands while caring for the land, in support of Woodsy Owl’s famous motto, “Lend a Hand, Care for the Land.” We aspire to do that not just by volunteering, but also by experiencing our nation’s forests and grasslands through recreation and education events. All NPLD sites will receive Smokey Bear 75th and Woodsy Owl materials, courtesy of the Forest Service Symbols Program, and all NPLD sites hosting youth/educational programs will receive Natural Inquirer educational materials.
The Forest Service does not simply support volunteers and volunteer programs—we need them. Now, more than ever, our national forests and grasslands face unprecedented challenges. Wildfire, drought, insects and disease make having more people actively involved in the health and sustainability of our national forests and grasslands incredibly important for their well-being in the long run.
I hope that you, your friends and loved ones will take part in this great tradition of service. No matter what your role in our agency, you all play a critical role in our story of conservation. Whether you work in an office environment or spend your work days in the field, we can all come together on National Public Lands Day to share the experience of connecting to nature through service.
I also hope that you will consider hosting a National Public Lands Day event on your unit. No event is too big or too small. Even if you cannot host or attend a volunteer event, National Public Lands Day is a fee-free day, meaning entrance fees are waived at public lands across the country, making it a perfect day for getting out, enjoying and learning about America’s public lands.
You can learn more about the Forest Service role in National Public Lands Day, how to host an event or find an event near you on our National Public Lands Day webpage. This year, the USDA Forest Service is hosting 99 National Public Lands Day, fee-free events across the country.