National Public Lands Day cause for celebration

National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. In Alaska, with over 300 million acres of public land, we have a lot to celebrate. In 2014, NPLD will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27. There will be locations across the state where volunteers can assist with trail projects and other work to help public lands.

This occasion is a great way to connect communities to the public lands in their backyard, and it gives them a healthy, active way to share in the stewardship of these important areas. More and more children are growing obese and losing their connection to the outdoors. Introducing them to public lands and engaging them in helping maintain them is a great step toward giving them both skills and recreational opportunities.

Public lands and the recreation they inspire are not only good for health, they are good for the economy. According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Alliance, Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation each year, which creates over 6 million jobs. This is a boost to government at both the state and federal level, which each garner nearly $40 billion in tax revenue from outdoor recreation. Public lands are key to that economic activity -- and to the enjoyment and health benefits that accrue from it.

For over 10 years, Alaska Trails has been working to enhance and maintain trails across Alaska. Sustainable trails enable all types of users to access and enjoy public lands while not compromising the integrity and beauty that makes the land so unique. Alaska Trails has partnered with trails groups across the state -- from the Ester Dome mountain bike trails in Fairbanks to the Kachemak Bay Water Trail across the bay from Homer. In Anchorage, Alaska Trails has worked with the Singletrack Advocates to help build the popular mountain bike trails on the Hillside and at Kincaid. Alaska Trails has two mobile tool trailers that we lend to projects to make sure the volunteer muscle for projects has the right tools to be safe and effective. Giving people, especially young people, the tools to enjoy and take responsibility for their public land is a true benefit to our community.

In Alaska, and across the nation, volunteers from businesses, church groups, nonprofits and service groups will join together to help enhance, restore and celebrate America's public lands. Please consider bringing your family and lending a hand at one of these locations:

In the Mat-Su Valley, it's Crevasse-Moraine Trail Cleanup Day from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a free lunch afterwards for volunteers. In addition, the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers will be working on the new Government Peak Singletrack mountain bike trails from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers for that project meet in the parking lot of the ski chalet at Government Peak Recreation Area.

In Ketchikan, the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center will be free for the day and will host volunteer work projects from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Afterwards, enjoy a free barbeque for your efforts from noon to 1:00 pm.

In Anchorage, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Campbell Tract will host multiple trail improvement projects aimed at improving trail, revegetating areas, painting bridge railings, pulling weeds, and addressing safety concerns. Volunteers are asked to arrive at 8:30 a.m. at the Campbell Creek Science Center (CCSC). All volunteers are welcome to attend the free pizza luncheon at 12:15 p.m. at the BLM CCSC. Immediately following the lunch, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., the CCSC will host its annual Open House with games, indoor and outdoor fun, snacks and prizes. Please come dressed for the weather and remember to wear work boots, work gloves, and to bring a water bottle.

Also in Anchorage, the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) will be working on the Hillside ski trails. Earthwork was done on many of the trails, and volunteers will remove rocks, trim alders, rake out side slopes and trim roots. Volunteers will meet at 9 a.m. at the Hilltop parking lot. Bring work gloves, water, snacks, and tools if you have any.

For more information on any of these volunteer opportunities, please contact Alaska Trails at 334-8049.

Steve Cleary is the executive director of Alaska Trails, www.alaska-trails.org.

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