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Volunteers cleaning a beach. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash.
Volunteers cleaning a beach. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash.

The next time you’re out in the wild, enjoying our parks and state and federal lands, spend a moment in gratitude for the often unseen and unglamorous work that makes your visit possible. And it might just be one of your friends or neighbors you have to thank for the smooth trails you walk or the trash-free landscape you photograph. The National Park Service, with an unfunded maintenance backlog of almost $12 billion, relies on a lot of volunteers to maintain trails and help make visitors’ experience pleasant. Many state and local parks are also chronically underfunded and reliant on volunteers.

This past Monday was the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which, in his memory, has become a national day of service. All over the country, volunteers gathered to do something for the greater good. Here in the Washington, DC, area, organizations like the Rock Creek Conservancy (one of the National Parks Friends Alliance) and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club were out in force, picking up trash, sprucing up infrastructure and maintaining trails.

The need for volunteers doesn’t disappear the other 365 (this being a leap year) days of the year. Through the seasons, you may see volunteer crews doing the dirty work of clearing invasive plants, building water bars, cleaning up litter and blazing trails. When you see them, stop and thank them. And, if you can, think about joining one of the volunteer work trips offered by your local friends of the park or other organization. If you can’t join them, a donation is an investment in the future of the landscapes, plants, animals and nature experiences you love.

Like many nonprofit organizations, NANPA also relies on volunteers. You can lend your time, expertise and passion for nature photography in ways both large and small. Perhaps you have an idea for a webinar topic you could present. Maybe you could share in a blog article some insight into a favorite place, species or photographic technique. Possibly you are a good video editor and can spare some editing time. Check out our volunteer opportunities or support nature photography with a donation to the NANPA Foundation.

There’s a lot that needs doing in this world and the only way we’ll make it better is by getting involved in the causes we care about.