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Get your hands dirty on your lands

Saturday the Natchez National Historical Park will be celebrating the nation’s largest single-day volunteer event for public lands, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Melrose. National Public Lands Day began in 1994 with three sites and 700 volunteers and was such a huge success it became a yearly tradition, typically on the last Saturday in September. Since the first NPLD, the event has grown by leaps and bounds.

Natchez National Historical Park employees as well as public volunteers will be assisting the staff at Melrose to help clear out invasive species as well as help with a pond cleanup. Volunteers can check in at the Melrose visitor center between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to participate. They will need to wear long pants along with close toe shoes or work boots. Work gloves, long sleeves, bug spray and sunscreen are also recommended.

Consider that one-third of the land in America is ours — public land where we can all hike, bike, climb, swim, explore, picnic or just relax. There’s a special joy in getting our hands dirty when it help keep our land beautiful.

National Public Lands Day is an opportunity to spruce up these lands while helping us get back to some of the places we love.

In 2011, more than 170,000 volunteers worked at 2,067 sites in every state, the District of Columbia and many U.S. territories. NPLD volunteers collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants, built and maintained and estimated 1,500 miles of trails, planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants and removed over 500 tons of trash from trails and other public places. Volunteers contributed an estimated $17 million through services to improve public lands across the country.

As part of this annual celebration of public lands, NPLD is supporting the first lady’s Let’s Move Outside initiative as it engages families and youth to get outdoors and be active through hands-on fun activities. Research shows that being active outdoors is one step to reducing childhood obesity, diabetes and other health conditions, as well as reducing blood pressure and stress in adults.

National Public Lands Day is the perfect opportunity to visit, and give back to, our national parks. Along with experiencing the amazing natural and cultural treasures of the National Park System, Americans can lend a hand to ensure that the parks are beautiful and accessible for years to come.

As a special thank you, each volunteer who participates in NPLD will receive a fee-free coupon which is good until Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. These coupons provide the volunteer one day of free entry to any participating federal public land, no matter the agency. For example, if you volunteer at Natchez National Historical Park on National Public Lands Day and receive a coupon, you could use it for free entry into Yellowstone the following May!

Along with the free coupon, NPLD Foundation is also having its 12th annual NPLD Volunteers in Action Photo Contest. Three photographers from across the nation (ages 14 years of age and up) will be awarded prize packages, with all merchandise from REI.

So come on out, volunteer, break out your camera and show the NPLD Foundation what you and your fellow volunteers do to enhance our nation’s treasured public lands.

For more information on National Public Lands Day, or any other activities going on at Natchez National Historical Park, contact me at 601-446-8601 or visit our website www.nps.gov/natc or www.publiclandsday.org for a site near you!


Melissa Tynes is a ranger at the Natchez National Historical Park.