It is a coincidence that Saturday, September 28th is both National Hunting and Fishing Day, and National Public Lands Day, but it shouldn’t be.
American fishermen and hunters are the envy of the world for the freedom we have to pursue our obsessions across millions upon millions of acres of public forest, river, desert and prairie. National Public Lands Day celebrates that freedom, and the heritage it represents, of a free people with room to roam, camp, run rivers, swim in lakes, climb mountains, catch fish, and chase game animals big and small. It’s also a day where Americans are encouraged to participate, bring your children, and join the estimated 175,000 of your fellow citizens who repair trails, pick up litter, help maintain public campgrounds, and various other volunteer work, from the sun-baked Florida Keys to cold Mount Katahdin, from the mists of the Olympic Peninsula to the wild heat of the Mojave Desert. Here’s a link to the public lands projects where you can join other outdoorspeople, in whatever part of the U.S. you find yourself: http://www.publiclandsday.org/npld-sites.
A year and half ago, I wrote here at the Conservationist about the importance of our public lands in my life — I settled in Montana over 24 years ago because of the hunting and wandering afforded by the National Forests, the state lands, and the millions of acres of prairie and badland country stewarded by the Bureau of Land Management. My wife and I have raised our children here, secure in the knowledge that we can pass on the values and passions of an outdoor life to them, no matter our financial fortunes, no matter how crowded our world becomes in the coming decades. We don’t need to be wealthy to hunt the National Forests, camp on the BLM lands, or fish the Missouri River. We can find waterfowl hunting without ransacking our daughter’s college fund for a hunting lease. We have a place to teach our kids to shoot, to hunt elk and mule deer, to train a retriever, to leave on long summer afternoons and walk for hours in the coulees or the high country. When we go back to visit family in Alabama, we have the Bankhead National Forest, the Sipsey Wilderness, Little River Canyon National Preserve, and more, to explore. Someday, while we’re in the South, we’ll canoe the Conecuh River through the Conecuh National Forest during spring turkey season — I’ve always wanted to hunt there, and my son has always wanted to see an Eastern Diamondback rattler and an Indigo Snake, in the wild.
Every Field & Stream reader knows, just as well as I do, the power of these big landscapes, and knows what treasures these public lands and waters truly are. So this Saturday, no matter where you live, take the time to celebrate National Public Lands Day, and if you are so inclined, find out how you can help make sure the legacy is passed on to our great grandchildren, and to theirs.
More information on public lands in the West, with links to free maps and interesting places to check out, is here.