National parks across the country are asking people to move off the couch and get some dirt underneath their fingernails on Saturday in celebration of National Public Lands Day.
The holiday, now in its 20th year, is the largest volunteer initiative for national parks. In 2012, nearly 175,000 people volunteered at 2,206 sites in every state and several U.S. territories.
Since its inception, workers have cleared about 500 tons of trash from trails and planted an estimated 100,000 trees and shrubs.
MaryEllen Snyder, management assistant for Western Pennsylvania National Parks, said the day is all about making people feel at home in the parks.
“We try to make sure whatever volunteers are interested in doing we find the right job for them,” she said. “They might have special interests in one thing or another so we try and find a task that fits their interests.”
Snyder said volunteering doesn’t come with any obligations.
“We all think that once you get here, you’ll want to help, you’ll want to volunteer,” she said, “and you can even volunteer just four hours a week or four hours a month. You don’t have to make a big commitment once you decide if you’d like to volunteer.”
Western Pennsylvania’s five national parks will offer free admission this Saturday in conjunction with the nation-wide volunteer effort.
Entrance fees will be waived at Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County, Johnstown Flood National Memorial in Cambria County and Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in Cambria County.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Fayette County and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville have free admission daily.
Snyder hopes the free admission will lead to more visitor involvement.
“People can come and see the parks for free,” she said, “but the emphasis is on, once you get there, seeing how great the park is and then deciding do you want to be a part of helping sustain the park.”