What Does National Public Lands Day Mean To You?

What Does National Public Lands Day Mean To You?

Image by Natalie Davey

National Public Lands Day is an annual celebration of public lands in the United States. It is organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation with the goal of encouraging both recreation and volunteer conservation. This holiday was established in 1994 with a small group of volunteers and has since grown to include tens of thousands of people volunteering their time. The day also includes free entry at many federally managed lands, so we hope you get out there and enjoy the day!

At SheFly, we are celebrating this day by inviting some of the folks pushing for new ways to experience the outdoors to share their thoughts on what the holiday means to them. We hope these interviews prompt you to consider who has access to outdoor spaces, and who might not. Our public lands are for everyone, in theory, but in order to foster equity in the outdoor industry, we believe the first step is engaging with the various perspectives of our communities.


Alyssa Gonzalez (she/her)

Alyssa Gonzalez is a Hispanic-SE Asian athlete, advocate and designer living on Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute ancestral land colonized as Boulder, Colorado. Her work focuses on educating, empowering and elevating Black, Brown, and Indigneous Women of Color in the outdoors. (IG @__alyssagonzalez

Q: What does National Public Lands Day mean to you? 

Gonzalez: National Public Lands Day comes around once a year --  it’s known as the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public land where fees are waived, granting people free access to National parks and public land. According to the NEEF website, they consider this day “an opportunity to show our appreciation for these precious natural resources through trail restoration, park clean-ups, and other events that teach us about the environment”. As someone who recreates outside almost every day, I have so much love and appreciation for the lands I’m on. I wake up everyday on Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute land colonized as Boulder, Colorado, see the mountains outside my window and feel how important it is to protect and preserve the nature around us but it’s impossible to not think about how this land came to be and what had to happen for this country to claim it as ours. 

Over the last few years, I’ve been actively working to decolonize my way of thinking and the education I’ve received. I grew up learning about the Pilgrims and Indians, Christopher Columbus, and Lewis and Clark. What I didn’t learn about was the billions of acres of land stolen from the indigenous and native people, the true history behind our National Parks and the horrors of how we came to “own” this land. When I think of National Public Lands now, it’s impossible to not think about the displacement, murder, and abuse of millions of indigenous people who called these 50 states and 85 million acres of “national public lands” their homes.

I hope that people can use this day to learn about the true history behind these parks and the land they’re on as well as educate themselves on how to properly advocate for Indigineous and Native land ownership! The Native governance center has three great suggestions for taking action: 

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Q: As a model, designer, and outdoor athlete, your career path seems creative, unconventional, and honestly epic! What is the relationship between your creativity and public lands? How have the outdoors guided your dynamic career? 

Gonzalez: I have taken the approach of decolonizing my life to my career path and have found a variety of work that brings me happiness and purpose -- instead of focusing on the goal of making money and gaining status and power. I started recreating in the outdoors when I was 23, when I went for my first hike, bike, climb etc. I didn’t grow up in an environment that promotes outdoor recreation and never saw people like me doing things like mountain biking, climbing or skiing. My career path is unconventional to some -- I’m a model, designer, outdoor athlete and educator, but it’s all driven around my love for experiencing and sharing the joy that the outdoors brings me! The outdoors is my place to refuel. I am fully immersed in the outdoor industry and it’s shaped my life in so many ways. My work fully encompasses the things I care about most, advocating for a more diverse and inclusive outdoors, providing representation for BIPOC women, redefining what it means to be an outdoors athlete, and sharing stories and experiences to help spread the joy of the outdoors to more people.

Kelly Wood (she/her/hers)

Kelly Wood is an Educational Ranger with the National Park Service. She’s worked at five national parks and loves meeting Junior Rangers. She lives in Western Colorado and enjoys trail running, skiing, s’mores, and geology puns. (Views are her own, not those of the NPS).

Q: What does National Public Lands Day mean to you?

Wood: National Public Lands Day is an invitation for all of us to get out to parks, forests, lakes, and waters, and a chance to reflect on our responsibility as stewards. While agencies like the NPS manage these lands and waters, they belong to all of us. Think about the way you take care of something you cherish -- maybe a bicycle or a favorite pair of shoes -- you probably clean the mud off your shoes after a walk and keep your bike well-maintained. You can help take care of cherished places by participating in a volunteer trail work day, if you’re able, or by sharing a favorite place or activity with a friend who’s never been. 

Throughout the year, you can find opportunities to participate in management of Public Lands by reviewing and commenting on plans and proposals, and National Public Lands Day is a time to research those opportunities! For example, Arches National Park is looking for input on Visitor Use, Access, and Experience here: Arches National Park (arcgis.com), and the Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre, and Gunnison National Forest is reviewing their new forest plan here: Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests - Planning (usda.gov)

Q: What’s something your journey as a park ranger has shown you about Public Lands?

Wood: I’ve learned that the ways I like to spend time on Public Lands are not the same way everyone likes to experience these places. And that’s the magic! It is not my role as a park ranger to prescribe how to exist on Public Lands. Sure, there are rules in place to protect these places, but there are countless ways to get out on Public Lands, from extreme adventure sports to napping in the shade and everything in between. I love meeting students on field trips who are visiting the park for the first time because it feels like such an opportunity. I hope that these children have an experience that helps them see the park as their own, and they’ll return to enjoy Public Lands in their own way. Of course, I hope they learn something on their field trip too!

Q: As someone who interfaces with our public lands on a daily basis, what are some issues that you see regularly and how can the outdoor community take action on this holiday to give back to these spaces?

Wood: While they may seem like opposing issues, overcrowding and lack of inclusivity in national parks both require the outdoor community to look itself in the mirror. First, overcrowding in popular parks and forest destinations threatens degrading natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor experience. Second, while public lands may belong to all of us, there are considerable barriers to equitable access. Can we make parks more inviting to traditionally excluded communities while maintaining resources and values threatened by overcrowding? I believe so, and there are already groups doing it. Programs that bring new audiences to parks and public lands do a fantastic job teaching outdoor skills and ethics like Leave No Trace. By supporting these organizations, the outdoor community is building inclusivity and growing responsibility among visitors.  

Natalie Perez-Regalado (she/her/hers)

Natalie currently lives in Los Angeles where she is a program manager for a local conservation corps. She enjoys going on hikes with her adventure kitty, Nellie, reading in her hammock, thrifting and eating tacos. She believes in the power of community and works to make the outdoors more inclusive while educating others about environmentalism. (IG @natalielovestheworld )

Q: What does National Public Lands Day mean to you?

Perez-Regalado: National Public Lands Day is a day for the community, ALL members of the community, to gather in outdoor spaces and soak up the benefits, mind and body, these spaces offer. To me, NPLD is an opportunity for the large, diverse community of adventurers, nature lovers, environmental stewards, and anyone who enjoys being outside to experience public lands together. In the past, I have participated in beach cleanups, creek cleanups, watered baby oak trees, abated graffiti, and even harvested fruit on NPLD. Throughout the year I spend a large amount of time talking to friends, family, and strangers about the beauty and benefits of outdoor spaces, the history of those places, and the actions we can take to protect them. For many, NPLD will be the first time they visit a specific park or forest, maybe even their first time on public land. It is especially a great opportunity for younger community members and children to build a relationship with the outdoors through service opportunities. By removing the fee barrier and dedicating a day to experience these places, more people have access to the outdoors and will be motivated to spend time there. A day dedicated to experiencing Public Lands through service, recreation, or simply enjoying her peacefulness and beauty, is one of my favorite days of the year.   

Q: As an outdoor recreationalist and traveler, what’s something you do to be more mindful when interacting with public lands, and the communities who live in and around those areas? 

Perez-Regalado: To me, being mindful means considering how my actions will impact the environment I'm visiting, whether public lands or communities, and actively working to keep my adverse impacts to a minimum. Planning ahead has been the most effective way for me to meet this goal. I am able to minimize my waste by planning trips ahead of time and practicing leave no trace whenever I venture outdoors or travel. I consider the impact I might have on the surrounding communities and try to shop local and small whenever possible, keep noise pollution to a minimum, and check for any local policies in effect. Over the past few years, I have made an effort to learn some of the history of the areas I visit, specifically which indigenous people live(ed) on the land and how I can respect their communities. Living in Southern California water is always a resource to consider, so whenever possible, I bring my own supply of water.

I also use mindfulness practices to grow my appreciation for the outdoors. I find a bench, log, or rock to relax on and ground myself to the moment. I listen and observe my surroundings, without talking or looking through a lens. I always endeavor to greet others when we cross paths to make the outdoors as inviting as possible. I end each adventure by thinking of what I am grateful for that day. 

Q: How can we incorporate intersectional environmentalism into outdoor education and advocacy? 

Perez-Regalado: We must first acknowledge and illuminate the contributions BIPOC have made to outdoor education, advocacy, and all environmental work. We often hear that environmental conservation began with John Muir in the late 1800s but that is not inaccurate. Many people, specifically BIPOC, had been participating in environmental conservation long before. In a not uncommon trend, their voices and contributions were not properly recognized, watered-down, or intentionally erased from history. Now, we must amply BIPOC voices in all environmental work. We should support initiatives and actions that move to create a more just and equitable future and make resources accessible to all members of the community. We should support grassroots environmental justice efforts. We should act in solidarity and uplift intersectional work on social justice, human rights, and environmental movements. We must take action in whatever form we each are able to. I often welcome friends and community members to join me on local hikes in an effort to build a healthy community and increase confidence and comfort in outdoor spaces. I highly recommend following @intersectionalenvironmentalist on IG. IE is a community of intersectional environmentalists and a robust resource hub for environmental justice.


Aiyana Reid (She/Her/They/Them)

Aiyana Reid (she/her/they/them) is a trans-fluid member of the Cowlitz Nation. She currently resides on Coast Duwamish Lands, known to many by its stolen name, Seattle. Aiyana is a multi-faceted artist who's work regardless of medium strives to create space and recognition of the beauty within queer identifying natives. (IG and current place to purchase Aiyana's jewelry ~ @split.feather.and.co

Q: What does National Public Lands Day mean to you? 

Reid: Public Lands Day to me is yet another chance for me to take consideration of the land I'm on, and for that matter WHOSE land I’m on. As a native person, I think it is always important to celebrate those whose land you are on when you are celebrating the land that they and their ancestors have been stewards of since time immemorial. In celebrating the land and the people from the land, give back! Open your hearts and open your wallets to organizations like Real Rent Duwamish or businesses like Wenatchi Wear that are directly related to getting land back into the hands of those who can care for it best. 

Q: How do we celebrate and honor public lands day when all of this ‘public land’ is stolen land? How do we hold space for fostering relationships to public land while also fighting for Land Back?

Reid: As I mentioned before, one of the best ways you can celebrate this stolen land is by acknowledging the very nature of how and who stole it! Give back to the local communities of the peoples whose land you inhabit. I think that while Land Back is very literal in some ways, this also looks like giving the rights to protect and govern land to the first inhabitants. Putting your money and time where your mouth is could surely help out with the celebration of this land. Donate time or money to a local native non-profit. Donate to a local native youth organization. Donate to a local native artist ~ support and celebration are about more than telling your white friends you are supportive.

Have more thoughts on National Public Lands Day? Share them in the comments or on our corresponding Instagram post. 

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