Ask Ernestine White about celebrating National Public Lands Day (NPLD), September 28, 2013, and she'll eventually get around to how important it is, how educational, how helpful, how rewarding.
But she'll lead off by saying: "It's about bringing greater awareness to our public lands. But it's also a really fun day."
White is the Volunteer Program Manager at Valley Forge National Historical Park, site of 3,500 of the nation's estimated 600 million acres of public lands. NPLD, now marking its 20th year, is an annual celebration of the state and federal parks, community gardens, beaches, wildlife preserves and forests that remain among our most valuable assets. The day is characterized as the largest hands-on volunteer program in the nation to preserve and enhance these treasures. In 2012, 170,000 volunteers tackled more than 2,100 tasks nationwide
At Valley Forge, NPLD activities will center on over 20 projects, each with a volunteer team and a leader. "Each project starts with the crew leader providing an overview of its significance," White says. "There's a little safety briefing and then it's time for the work - and fun - to start."
Assignments will center on preserving and maintaining the park's natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources by removing invasive plants and animals, White says, such as the harmful rusty crayfish in Valley Creek. "There's going to be several different types of trails maintenance projects, including maintenance to a newly created equestrian connector trail to the Chapel/Bridle trail," she explains.
Other groups will:
- Plant trees
- Remove litter from the riverbed and boundary lines
- Clean exterior woodwork on park structures
- Paint the doors to the stables at Washington's Headquarters
- Whitewash the exterior structure of the Route 23, known as the Furnace House
- Maintain and clean the huts
Oh, and then there's the cannon-painting, also on the NPLD to-do list.
"That's something you don't get to do every day," laughs White.
"So these are exciting things," she goes on. "When some of these projects are assigned, people act like they hit the lottery. They get really, really excited about what they're being asked to do. We know Valley Forge National Historical Park is well loved by the community. These types of events showcase the level of support and the value and specialness of this place," White adds.
In addition to the fun, the accent is on learning. "All this is incorporated with some sort of education," White says. "Everything that we do is wrapped in education. That's where it starts. Because we want people to really understand the significance of these resources and that these special places belong to all of us. Even when it comes to litter: how litter washes into our waterways and how that affects us. Why is it important for us to manage litter on the ground. Basic things of that nature."
NPLD at Valley Forge begins at 8:30 a.m. with coffee, breakfast snacks and registration (walk-ins are welcome; make sure you've got appropriate attire, gloves and sturdy shoes). Throughout the morning an environmental expo will be onsite, featuring displays and exhibits to remind us of the importance of stewardship. A BBQ lunch is available, and tee-shirts will go to the first 250 volunteers.
Also as part of the day, the park will unveil the name of its new trail bridge across the Schulykill River, saving joggers and cyclists from the dizzying heights and skinny passageway of the pedestrian lane on the Betzwood Bridge.
When Valley Forge NHP first solicited NPLD volunteers, 99 people showed up, according to White. "Some corporate representatives and a Boy Scout troop," she recalls. Now, more than 400 volunteers are expected early in the morning on September 28, ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in. "Now we're at the point where it's a really great mixture of corporate groups and youth organizations, families, so on," White concludes. "We're even attracting people from out of state, from Ohio, New York and New Jersey, we know from the advance registration that they are coming from different parts of the country to help us out."
If that's you - if you're planning to arrive from out of state to volunteer for NPLD activities at Valley Forge - you can find detailed hotel information on our website. Even if you're local and in need of some pampering after a full day's outdoor labor, nearby accommodations are ready to help you rest those tired muscles.