PHOTOGRAPHY: Courtesy of Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission 

PHOTOGRAPHY: Courtesy of Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission 

 

A LITTLE LESS TRASH

Yearly event brings people together to clean up public lands

By Lacey Thacker

  An excited volunteer pauses in collecting rubbish to throw the camera a peace sign.

An excited volunteer pauses in collecting rubbish to throw the camera a peace sign.

National Public Lands Day, which falls on September 30 this year, was one of my favorite volunteer opportunities when I was in college. In fact, every year I’d comment at least once in the weeks leading up to it, “National Public Lands Day comes but once a year.” The reason for my excitement was simple: National Public Lands Day is, to my mind, nothing but an excuse to get outside, spend time with friends and partake in your favorite outdoor activity while doing some cleanup to benefitthe environment. 

It wasn’t just me who enjoyed the day; a large group would inevitably turn up, with a leisurely float trip or camping excursion planned to coincide with our day of volunteering. I was lucky to attend school with a number of conservation-minded people, for whom volunteering outdoors for the day wasn’t even something they considered, it was just something they did. The weather around the end of September is just starting to cool a bit, making for good camping weather or a pleasant day on the water.

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To determine who was going where, a list would be distributed describing the several options for cleanup sites—some on the lake, some on a creek, a few at various hiking spots near campus—but they all culminated in a big lunch donated by one group or another. While we ate, stories would circulate about the items that had been collected. Every year, there would be one final winner: perhaps a tire found in a stream, perhaps a mattress dumped in an otherwise untraversed section of woods, perhaps a hunk of sheet metal blown from its original location by spring winds. Every year promised a surprise.

And that’s the whole point of National Public Lands Day: to help remove those unexpected items from our precious public lands.

If picking up trash isn’t your thing, there are other options available, including removing invasive non-native plants, planting beneficial plants, trail maintenance and structural repair. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, in 2016 volunteer efforts across the country resulted in $18 million worth of public land improvements.

National Public Lands Day has been going for over 20 years, and since over 30 percent of the land in the United States is public, it’s an important day for volunteerism across the United States. For many federally managed public lands, it’s also a free entry day. Even if you don’t attend one of the many volunteer opportunities around Arkansas, get together with friends or family for an outing to enjoy the majesty Arkansas has to offer—and maybe bring a sack to fill with garbage you find on your adventure.

 NPLD often provides temperate weather for any outdoor activity. Here, two paddlers enjoy the sun while stopping at the shore to collect trash.

NPLD often provides temperate weather for any outdoor activity. Here, two paddlers enjoy the sun while stopping at the shore to collect trash.

Volunteering for National Public Lands Day is easy. Events, searchable by state, are listed online through the National Environmental Education Foundation and the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission, which hosts a number of events from September 9 through October 31 as part of the Great Arkansas Cleanup.  

For more information, go to neefusa.org or keeparkansasbeautiful.com.