National Public Lands Day 2020

This Saturday is the 27th annual National Public Lands Day, an event established by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to bring together thousands of volunteers to restore and improve our shared lands. Last year, more than 156,000 volunteers devoted 624,372 hours of their time to 2,117 sites, according to NEEF.

Like many things, National Public Lands Day will look a little different this year. Many sites are hosting virtual events and education programs, but there are some opportunities to get involved in river and trail clean-ups, habitat improvement projects, and guided hikes around the country.

This year, honoring our public lands is more important than ever. Many parks, campgrounds, beaches, boat launches, and trailheads around the country were closed this spring, only to see record numbers of visitors once reopened. In some locations, the United States Forest Service saw up to three times the number of visitors than previous years. In June 2020, camping equipment sales were 30% higher than June 2019 sales, paddlesport equipment sales were more than 50% higher, and cycling equipment sales were more than 60% higher. In many states, hunting and fishing license sales are soaring. Trail counters have shown average trail use nationwide is 79% higher than last year, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

2019 versus 2020 recreational spending in the United States chart.

All this increased interest in getting outdoors can strain our shared resources: public land managers are seeing more vandalism, overflowing trash bins and pit toilets, illegal campfires, and people driving and parking vehicles on sensitive vegetation despite obvious signage prohibiting vehicles. Even in areas where vehicles are allowed, the sheer amount of traffic is causing devegatation at dispersed campsites, erosion, and road maintenance issues, not to mention safety concerns.

The Value of Getting Outside

The US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry was $778 billion, and in total provided 5.2 million jobs in 2017–more than mining, agriculture, or chemical manufacturing. In addition to economic benefits, an expanding body of health research shows that time spent outdoors can decrease anxiety, improve blood pressure and mental focus, and boost immune system function.

Explore public lands confidently with onX Hunt.

So how do we all get outside for the mental and physical benefits that open space provides, keep rural economies dependent on outdoor recreation strong, and not contribute to overcrowding at our favorite outdoor escapes? To answer that question and formulate guides to best practices, a national coalition of outdoor nonprofits, businesses, and land management agencies formed earlier this year. The Recreate Responsibly Coalition has assembled general all-activity guidelines as well as state- and activity-specific resources and recommendations. #RecreateResponsibly emphasizes pre-trip planning, checking rules and regulations before leaving home, and having a back-up plan in case the first choice is too crowded.

Recreate Responsibly with three tips. how to act outside. Image of mountains.

They also emphasize that this year, backcountry rules may apply to the frontcountry: for example, instead of piling your trash on top of an already overflowing garbage bin at a campground or trailhead, pack your waste out and toss it in your household trash when you get home. Consider, too, going to lesser-known or less-Instagrammable places. Many of the most iconic and photogenic places are being loved to death. My recommendation? Go anywhere that’s leafy, or where tall grass flows in a breeze, or any place where birds chirp—but go when the sun is rising or setting. You’ll be amazed how the mundane becomes magical.

onX’s Commitment to Public Lands

Finding and accessing locations for hunting and outdoor recreation is part of onX’s DNA: we exist to help explorers seek out new adventures. So in late 2017, we began a series of initiatives aimed at improving access to the outdoors.

In conjunction with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), onX has published four regional reports detailing the number of inaccessible public land acres in the West, Upper Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. We will complete this series in October with an additional report that will highlight landlocked select states in the South. We’ve provided landlocked data to the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, several state agencies, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and numerous land trusts to assist their efforts to open more publicly-accessible land. We’ve advocated for solutions like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the MAPLand Act. In the past two years, we’ve provided funds that are helping expand access to 14,726 acres in Arizona, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, and Iowa.

onX expands public lands access. Image of trees in forest.

And this year, with help from TRCP, RMEF, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, we launched Report a Land Access Opportunity to provide the public a platform to report locations where access is impeded or could be improved. Through this project, we’ve received over 200 access reports from folks who have boots-on-the-ground familiarity with access challenges and possible solutions. The majority of submissions have shared the locations of gates, road blocks, and signage which are either on public land or significantly reduce access to public land. Other submissions pointed out inaccessible public waterways or parcels of public land with high hunting and recreational value.

Now, in recognition that crowded trails, beaches, boat launches, and campsites reflect higher demand than supply of places to get outside and explore, we’re adding a new category to Report a Land Access Opportunity: crowded conditions. It’s no secret to land managers and locals where these crowded conditions exist, but we’ll look for connections and patterns among all submission types for opportunities to relieve some of the pressure and share the information with relevant agency officials.

Get Outside with onX Hunt
Find trails, recreation sites, public / private land boundaries, and more.

All submissions to Report a Land Access Opportunity are being reviewed on a rolling basis by a small team at onX, and subsets will be shared with the best-suited partner and relevant land management agencies for further investigation into a possible solution.

Men hunting in the backcountry with full packs.

If you saw crowded conditions in your outdoor adventures this year, please submit the location with a detailed description about the area and what you witnessed. No onX membership is required. onX members may share locations directly through the App using the Waypoint Sharing feature. Non-members may sign up for a free App trial or submit locations through the reporting form.

This weekend, in celebration of National Public Lands Day consider joining a trail crew in your area, or attending one of the many virtual events being offered, and remember to #RecreateResponsibly. This land is your land.


Lisa Nichols

As the Access Advocacy Manager at onX, Lisa works with nonprofit and agency partners to address the challenges of accessing outdoor recreation opportunities, and leverages the data and mapping expertise of onX to promote solutions. Lisa loves exploring wild and scenic places on her skis and mountain bike.