WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 AT 11:45 AM EDT - The U.S. Forest Service is offering a fee-free day on Sept. 28 in conjunction with the 20th annual National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands.
“Today’s announcement is part of the USDA for all Seasons campaign, which seeks to educate the public on all the ways the department’s agencies programs help communities and their economies every day,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “America’s national forests and grasslands belong to all of us. These beautiful places have so much to offer, and we hope you’ll get outside and volunteer on National Public Lands Day to enjoy these places for yourself, while improving them for future visitors.”
The Forest Service offers six fee-free days in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Get Outdoors Day, National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day Weekend. Fees are waived generally for day use areas, such as picnic grounds, developed trailheads and destination visitor centers. Fees are not waived for concessionaire-operated facilities or for overnight use such as camping or recreation rentals. Contact your local national forest to learn if your destination requires a fee and if that fee is waived.
Forest Service units plan their own activities for Sept. 28, but many will include wildfire and wildfire prevention education courses.Participants can contact their nearest forest or grassland for event information or visit the National Public Lands Day website.
In 2012, about 175,000 volunteers worked at 2,206 sites in every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, making it the largest participation in the event’s history. Those volunteers collected an estimated 500 tons of trash and 23,000 pounds of invasive plants, planted 100,000 trees and other plants and built or maintained 1,500 miles of trails.
Additionally, almost 108,000 volunteers and service members contributed 4.3 million hours or nearly 2,400 person years on critical projects on national forests, grasslands and prairies. Their service was valued at close to $94 million.
Forest Service lands, which include 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands, offer something for everyone, from the casual hiker to the thrill-seeking recreationist. There are also opportunities and programs for children, including the popular Discover the Forest and Junior Forest Ranger programs.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.