Parks across the United States are gearing up for National Public Lands Day, slated to take place this Saturday, September 26, 2015. More than 175,000 people will be volunteering to work together at what is considered the largest, single-day effort to clean up our nation’s public spaces. From clearing invasive plants from engulfing native species to collecting trash to planting trees to simply getting outdoors to enjoy the abundant beauty of nature, there are plenty of ways to get involved.

Volunteering is the goal of National Public Lands Day

Photo Courtesy of National Public Lands Day

So how can you get down and dirty in a park near you this weekend?  Here are some of our family’s favorite ways to pitch in and have fun at the same time.

Teach your kids about volunteering on National Public Lands Day

Photo Credit: Gina Vercesi, Unplugged Traveling Mom

  • Take a Hike – Grab a trash bag and head out to a local, state, or, if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, a national park and hit the trail.  Most parks have a visitor’s center where you can pick up a map and get suggestions for a hiking route that will be a good fit for your family.  As you make your way along the trail, pick up any discarded trash you see.
  • Look for Birds – Shorebirds, songbirds, and raptors, oh my!  A pair of binoculars and quiet footsteps are all you need to spot some common and not so common species.  The National Audubon Society has some great tips for beginner birders to get started.  And getting started is simple.  Choose a type of bird, one that’s easy to recognize like a blue jay or a cardinal, and head out to find them.
  • Sleep Under the Stars – You may not realize it, but you don’t have to go to far to find a great public campground.  Many local and state parks have areas for tent campers with bathroom facilities, grills, picnic tables, and park ranger-lead activities.  If you’re new to camping, a backyard campout can be an excellent way to get your family ready for an official trip.  Shut out all your lights and listen to the nighttime sounds around you.  Even if your house is steps away, you’ll feel like you’re in the woods!

Be sure to check out the National Public Lands Day website to see if there are organized activities in your community.  Don your gardening gloves and bring your kids.  And when the work is done, you’ll be in a perfect location to relax with a picnic.