A hiking trail winds through mountains
Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state (photo by Stephanie Bergeron)

Connecting with Nature Via Service: Celebrating National Public Lands Day on Sept. 28

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In the United States, more than 25 percent of all land is federally protected — set aside for the enjoyment of people and the conservation of plants and wildlife. But more than just using these lands for pleasure, Americans actively work to restore and enhance these public lands, coming together once a year to connect with nature via service for National Public Lands Day (NPLD). 

Coordinated by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and sponsored for 20-plus years by Toyota Motor North America, NPLD promotes the connection between people and the environment and takes place the fourth Saturday of September. The theme of this year’s event, on September 28, is “Connecting to Nature through Service.” 


NEEF is a nonprofit chartered by Congress in 1990 to partner with the EPA to advance environmental literacy nationwide. As part of its effort to “make the environment more accessible, relatable, relevant, and connected to the daily lives of all Americans,” NEEF launched NPLD in 1994. Working with federal and nonprofit partners, the organization organizes and promotes NPLD events and offers grants and incentives for conservation activities on public lands.  

NPLD is the largest single-day volunteer effort for U.S. public lands. According to NEEF data, in 2018, 113,055 volunteers gave more than 450,000 hours of their time to improve 1,176 sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. The impact of these efforts was vast, demonstrating what we can achieve when we all come together for public lands conservation. 

Although only 30 percent of all site managers responded to NPLD event post-surveys, the results for 2018 were impressive:

  • 539,521 pounds of invasive plants removed
  • 198,772 pounds of trash collected 
  • 137,948 acres of public lands restored 
  • 12,431 trees and flowers planted
  • 637 public facilities built or maintained 
  • 683 miles of trails and rivers maintained




NPLD also promotes the enjoyment of all public lands by designating it as a free entry day, and beyond facilitating volunteer opportunities, many federal agencies also host fun events and activities. For individuals who volunteer, many of the land management agencies provide a “fee-free day” coupon to be used on a future date. 

Interested in participating in the 26th annual NPLD? Find an event near you using NEEF’s Event Locator tool and map.

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Alexandra Vollman
Alexandra Vollman is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for the outdoors — especially hiking. As the co-founder and editor of Modern Conservationist, she oversees editorial management for the site. She has a bachelor’s degree in media communications and a master’s degree in writing and publishing. Alexandra enjoys using her knack for reporting and storytelling to instill in others a better understanding of and appreciation for nature.

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