In Praise of Public Lands

In the U.S., we celebrate the fourth Saturday of September as National Public Lands Day.  It is a day designated for volunteers to come out to help spruce up their favorite places.  It has been a rousing success since it began in 1994; in the most recent year, more than 100,000 people put in half a million hours of free labor (learn more about National Public Lands Day here).

Of course, it is difficult to call it labor when we get to spend the day in nature, even if we are carrying a shovel or trash bag along with our binoculars.  In the U.S. especially, but around the world, we are blessed with lands that belong to all of us and are accessible to all of us.  This conservation calendar tells the story of 45 special places that were created on various dates of the year, along with many other events that relate to those special places.  

But several September dates hold special significance for public lands.  Perhaps the most consequential is September 5, when in 1978 the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the first set of World Heritage Sites.  On that date, the first dozen sites were selected, including two in the U.S.—Yellowstone and Mesa Verde National Parks.  From those first few, the World Heritage list has grown to nearly 1100 properties around the world chosen for either their natural or cultural heritage, or both (learn more about UNESCO here).

In the U.S., the Wilderness Act became law on September 3, 1964 (learn more here).  Although the idea of “wilderness” had been around for a long time (Aldo Leopold was the first to propose the idea), this law assured that much of the remaining undeveloped federal lands would be set aside for that purpose only—being undeveloped.  And one of the leaders in accomplishing the Wilderness Act, Edgar Wayburn, was born on September 17 (more about him here).

September also holds the birthdays for several individual areas that illustrate the length and breadth of our great public public lands.  In the West, Canyonlands National Parks was established on September 12, 1964 (learn more here).  And one year later and on the other side of the continent Assateague Island National Seashore was established (September 21, 1965) (learn more here).

The novelist Wallace Stegner perhaps said it best when he declared that our national parks were “America’s Best Idea.”  But truly, our great national parks are only one part of the range of public lands—from city parks to distant wilderness areas to marine sanctuaries, all these make our lives so much better.  On public lands day and every other day.

This Month in Conservation

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
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