How to Get Involved in National Park Conservation This Earth Day

by Amy Myers

As more Americans come to know the beauty and adventure that our national parks offer, the best way to give back this Earth Day is to ensure that we’ll have these beloved lands for generations to come.

With 63 national parks and 423 total National Park Service (NPS) sites, our country boasts a wide variety of ecosystems, campgrounds, historic sites and monuments. Each one has its claim to fame which is why it’s so important to ensure that we, as patrons, chip in to be sure that future adventurists will be able to enjoy outdoor activities, too. And what better way to spend Earth Day than at your favorite park or NPS site?

This year’s Earth Day is extra special because it is a part of National Park Week. The Service has even designated a theme for the special week called, “sPark Connections.” On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, the daily theme will be “sPark Action,” in which the National Park Service encourages campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to consider the health of the environment and how we can contribute to it.

While there are plenty of ways to contribute to your local and national parks on Earth Day, there are some actions that take only moments but impact a lifetime. In order to make the most of your contribution, take a look at some of Outsider’s suggestions for Earth Day activities.

Participate in Trail and Stream Clean-Ups

One of the most popular activities during Earth Day are trail and stream clean-ups. According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), with an average of 330 million visitors each year, our parks see nearly 70 million pounds of trash each year. That’s enough to fill 600 dump trucks. That said, the NPS can use all the help maintaining the pristine nature of our parks.

Trail and stream clean-ups don’t have to be a formal event, either. Sure, you can join an event through an official organization, but you can also grab a buddy and a couple of garbage bags and a pair of gloves and patrol your favorite trails and waterways for any granola bar wrappers or rogue water bottles. If your bags aren’t full by the end of the journey, consider taking another, more heavily trafficked route. Likely, if a trail or stream sees more people, there’s going to be more trash.

Be sure not to throw your garbage bags in any trash cans at the park. You’ll want to dispose of these items off the premises of parklands to ensure that these items won’t wind up back on the trails and in the waters, or attract any critters.

Get to Know the Seven LNT Principles

Another crucial action to take this Earth Day is to learn and live by the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). For 25 years, the Leave No Trace organization has ensured a sustainable future for the outdoors and the planet. Really, the people behind LNT treat every day like it’s Earth Day. Through its efforts, the green organization has created seven rules for outdoorists to follow. By becoming familiar with these tactics, you can minimize and prevent future damage to our national parklands.

Here’s a breakdown of the seven LNT principles.

  • Plan ahead and prepare. By creating a plan for your outdoor trip, you’ll be able to choose the most sustainable options for your activities.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces. The “road less traveled” doesn’t apply here. Stay on designated trails and campsites to ensure minimal impact on surrounding plants.
  • Dispose of waste properly. Pack out whatever you bring into the parks. Even if there are trash cans available, it’s much more beneficial for the area if you remove the waste completely.
  • Leave what you find. A nifty rock or pretty seashell is a potential habitat for another organism. Remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints (on established grounds).
  • Minimize campfire impact. While campfires are always fun, they can be quite destructive. Keep all fire within established pits and be sure to fully extinguish them before leaving.
  • Respect wildlife. Maintain your distance from and avoid feeding wild animals while traveling through parks. Any human interaction, even well-natured, can encourage dependency on people and even cause attacks.
  • Be kind and courteous to others. Keep parklands a friendly environment for everyone. Share the trail, keep pets on-leash and be aware of any quiet hours at campgrounds.

Explore Local and National Park Trails

Think about your favorite trail. Maybe it has lots of switchbacks that give you a great cardio workout, maybe it has jaw-dropping, waterfront views, or perhaps its paved paths make it ideal for hiking with a stroller. Whatever the reason you’ve fallen in love with this trail, you’d be incredibly disappointed if the trail closed because of the amount of damage that humans have caused the area.

Consider these special spots your inspiration and motivation to get involved this Earth Day. Hike or paddle along these areas and take charge of the repairs or improvements that need to happen. Both local and national parks are always in need of volunteers. With NPS, you can serve alongside park employees or one of its many partner organizations. Not to mention, if you complete 250 or more service hours, you get a free entry pass to all national parks and federal recreation lands.

Really, it’s a win-win for both you and the parks you love.

Support National Park Foundation Programs

While it’s incredibly rewarding to get outside and physically contribute to Earth Day, these aren’t the only ways you can support our national parks. If you can’t get out to your favorite trails and waterways on the 22nd, consider donating to one of the National Park Foundation’s (NPF) wildlife programs. These projects are dedicated to keeping native species in critical condition a part of our national parks’ ecosystems. Especially out west, so many of our parklands are struggling to maintain populations of wolves, bison, antelopes, bighorn sheep and other depleting species that are part of the reason these lands are so beautiful.

Take a look at some of the National Park Foundation’s recent programs below.

Reintroducing Wolves to Yellowstone National Park

At Yellowstone National Park, officials are working hard to reintroduce wolves to the ecosystem. Back in the 1990s, Yellowstone reintroduced 41 wolves to the area. But getting them there was only half the battle. Officials also had to be sure that the wolves successfully acclimated to the environment, something their still working towards today.

To support this effort, the NPF is providing funding that will go towards ongoing research, tagging, and monitoring of the wolves to ” study how they have adjusted to their new home.” The park’s research efforts will also evaluate how the wolves’ presence affects other species in the ecosystem, such as prey species like elk and bison.

Protecting Lesser Long-Nosed Bats at Coronado National Memorial

Meanwhile, at Coronado National Memorial, the area provides a haven for the endangered species, lesser long-nosed bats. According to the NPF, thousands of these mammals come to roost at the national park memorial and feed on native Palmer’s agave nectar.

To ensure that this area can continue to house long-nosed bats, the NPF supported a project that allowed local middle schoolers to restore over 500 acres of agave habitat that ultimately suffered from overgrazing.

Today, there are 200,000 lesser long-nosed bats in existence, quite the improvement from the 1,000 known in 1988. However, the species is still considered vulnerable as there are only so many habitats left for the species.

Expanding Roaming Range of Bison in Badlands National Park

In South Dakota, Badlands National Park officials have been working towards expanding the roaming range of wild bison. This has been a particularly hot-button issue, since bison are also seen as ranch animals, blurring the lines between wild and domestic species and the effect on the park’s population.

To resolve this issue, the NPF and park officials implemented fencing that separated wild roaming lands from domestic territory without compromising the resources for either population. According to Badlands park officials, there are now 20,000 bison on public lands. Today, the NPF keeps a close eye on these numbers and the relationship between ranch and range animals.

These are just a few of the NPS’s many successful programs that have developed and continue through the years. Other efforts benefit animal species like cutthroat trout and plant species like longleaf pines. To donate to the National Park Foundation’s wildlife and conservation programs this Earth Day, head to their official website here.