Public Lands Represent Freedom and Openness

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Long before I ever became Secretary of the Interior, I spent many hours on our nation’s public lands. Growing up, I learned from my family the importance of caring for the lands that keep our air clean, our soil fertile, and our water pure. As a single mom struggling to make ends meet, I passed these lessons down to my child, Somáh.

Together, we explored places like the Will Rogers State Historic Park in California. I would pack our snacks and water bottles and we’d set out—stopping to smell sage along the trails. In spite of our humble means, we experienced the wonders of nature that only our public lands could provide.

This Saturday, our nation will celebrate the 30th annual National Public Lands Day. It’s a day that calls us to action: together, we roll up our sleeves and help restore public lands of all kinds. It’s also one of the Department of the Interior’s Fee Free Days, meaning that you and your family can experience our country’s national parks, wildlife refuges, or other public lands completely free of charge.

National Public Lands Day reminds us how central public lands are to our national identity. There, we hike, camp, explore, and make memories. When they were 10 years old, Somáh and I hiked Canyon de Chelly National Monument and stayed on the trails until we completed the Junior Ranger workbook. Identifying the trees, flowers, and animals brought our spirits closer to that beautiful landscape; looking out over the towering sandstone mesas and lush green blanket of desert shrubs, we imagined that we stood where our ancestors had.

Our country’s public lands don’t just serve us—they inspire countries around the world to protect the lands and waters that literally give us life and we’re seeing this global commitment to conservation take hold.

Here at home, the Biden-Harris administration takes the commitment to the outdoors to heart through our ongoing America the Beautiful initiative. Through locally led collaborative conservation, we’re ensuring more landscapes are protected as part of our shared natural heritage and expanding access to these beautiful places for everyone—no matter where they live or how much or how little they have.

Our actions are bolstered by the historic investments made possible through collaboration. I was proud to vote for the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) during my time in Congress, and today, GAOA is funding projects that restore habitats and make our public lands more accessible to every American.

But this work can’t just be for the here and now—it must outlive us so that future generations reap the benefits of public lands and waters set aside for our shared benefit. That’s why we’re putting resources toward empowering current and future generations of conservationists who can steward these places in perpetuity.

This week, I announced a $15 million commitment from our Department—made possible by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda—that will fund Interior’s youth conservation programs to support our next generation of conservation and climate stewards. This will support projects that restore lands and waters across our public lands while providing essential opportunities for young people to learn critical skills, gain formative experience, and forge career paths that support our future of sustainability. Close to my heart is the Indian Youth Service Corps, which I established to offer Indigenous youth access to culturally informed conservation opportunities that bolster their communities and feed their souls, much like my childhood experiences that shaped my love for the outdoors.

Our work makes a difference in the health and resilience of our public lands, but far-reaching conservation must be a collective goal. This National Public Lands Day, I hope everyone can take the opportunity to enjoy nature—whether it’s for a brisk walk or a day of volunteering. You can find volunteer opportunities near you through our longtime partner, the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Our public lands embody who we are as a country. They represent freedom and openness, deliver fresh air to breathe, and help us connect with the lands and waters that give us everything. It’s up to each of us to ensure these irreplaceable wonders stay that way.

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