By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
Saturday, September 26, 2020, is National Public Lands Day. Each year the fourth Saturday of September is so designated in an initiative created and sponsored by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Typically, this is the “largest single-day volunteer event for public lands,” with hikes, workshops, cleanups, demonstrations, and all sorts of opportunities for people to participate. Last year, more than 200,000 volunteers took part. With the Covid-19 virus still a threat, things will be different this year, but there will still be many chances to get involved.
Participating agencies include the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service, among others. Admission to national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and many other outdoor spaces is free on National Public Lands Day. At the very least, you can go out and enjoy nature, soak up the health benefits of being outdoors, and #RecreateResponsibly.
Not that we need an excuse to go out into nature with our cameras, but National Public Lands Day is a good opportunity for photographers to capture compelling images that tell stories about our public lands and the plants, animals, insects, and ecosystems that we find there. Are there threatened species we can draw attention to? Are there problems caused by thoughtless visitors we can point out (in a nice way)? Are there maintenance and restoration needs we can highlight? Are there images of natural splendor we can post to encourage people to visit and value their public lands? Maybe you just want to start working on capturing potential award-winning photos for next year’s NANPA Showcase competition. That works, too!
If you have time to volunteer, many parks and refuges are sponsoring cleanup days. With coronavirus disruptions and chronic budget problems, our outdoor spaces could certainly use our help. Check your local parks, refuges, forests, and conservancy organizations for volunteer events in your area. Here in the Washington, DC, area, the Rock Creek Conservancy is hosting several trail cleanup activities, as well as a National Public Lands Day Scavenger Hunt that helps visitors discover the hidden gems of the park. The NEEF event locator can point you to events nearby.
With restrictions on large gatherings and other precautions, maybe this is the year to consider being a virtual volunteer. There are a wide variety of online needs and opportunities. Check the Virtual Volunteer page for more information.
The great outdoors could use our help the other 364 days of the year, too. Even if you miss National Public Lands Day this year, think about what you can do for our parks, refuges and forests. And put a note in next year’s calendar to make a plan for National Public Lands Day, September 25, 2021.Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog and edits NANPA’s annual journal, Expressions.