Celebrating Public Lands and the Rich Conservation History of The Mountaineers

Every fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day (NPLD) offers us a chance to come together to support and protect our public lands. Learn more about the important public lands conservation history of The Mountaineers and how you can celebrate NPLD in your own way this year, and for years to come.
Conor Marshall Conor Marshall
Advocacy and Engagement Manager
September 21, 2021
Celebrating Public Lands and the Rich Conservation History of The Mountaineers

If you’re a bit like me, then maybe every day could be public lands day. The Pacific Northwest is fortunate to have many parks, trails, waterways, and green spaces that provide positive benefits across communities. There truly is something for everyone, in every season. Here at The Mountaineers, we strive to raise awareness around the importance of natural landscapes conserved as public lands - not just for recreation, but for the health and cultural identity of our region. Join us to celebrate National Public Lands Day this September 25th.

A day for public lands

National Public Lands Day is organized annually by the National Environmental Education Foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies. It’s a chance for land and recreation managers at all levels of government and non-profit groups of many missions to recognize the role that public lands play in our daily lives. Parks agencies typically grant free access to all users on this day in order to encourage use of open space to connect to nature. 

Thanks to the state legislature, Public Lands Day is observed as a holiday in Washington to honor the importance of our parks, trails, and recreation areas. This presents a great opportunity to foster stewardship and a broader conservation ethic by giving back to the land through planting trees, picking up trash, maintaining trails, and rallying support for conservation. It’s grown to be the largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands.

As the popularity of outdoor recreation continues to increase, governments and community groups are ramping up messaging to responsibly steward the land and create an inclusive outdoors. While National Public Lands Day was created in 1994, public lands have long been home to the areas Mountaineers explore, learn about, and conserve.

115 years of conservation work

Stewardship and advocacy for public lands are woven into the rich history of The Mountaineers. Conservation advocacy has been an enduring priority throughout The Mountaineers 115-year history. Early and influential members of the organization recognized the importance of protecting wild places for the outdoor experience so that they can endure now and into the future. From the formation of Olympic National Park in 1938 to the recent expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, The Mountaineers has been involved in nearly every major conservation campaign in our state's history.

Conservation was a central tenet of the club’s first constitution, which set out to “preserve by the encouragement of protective legislation and otherwise the natural beauty of the Northwest coast of America.” This translated to early conservation and advocacy action to protect the forests, mountains, and coastlines of the Olympic Peninsula as a National Park.

The campaign to protect the North Cascades represents one of the first convergences of The Mountaineers grassroots advocacy and book publishing efforts on behalf of public lands. In the 1950s, members partnered with other conservation groups and became heavily involved in the publicity campaign to create a National Park in the North Cascades. One of the club’s early publications, Harvey Manning’s The North Cascades, was a focal piece of this campaign. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law legislation creating the North Cascades National Park in 1968, a cornerstone victory for protecting wild places and backcountry recreation.

The pioneering conservation advocacy of The Mountaineers isn't limited to federal land protections. We played an instrumental role in the creation of Washington’s state park system. Early member and former Seattle Mayor Robert Moran donated land on Orcas Island - known today as Moran State Park - at a time of great conflict over whether the state should manage areas for recreation and public use. Beyond fighting to preserve key landscapes throughout Washington, Mountaineers members helped build a groundswell of support for bedrock conservation laws like the Wilderness Act. Learn more about our history fighting for public lands in The Mountaineers: A History, by Jim Kjeldsen.

National Parks and other public lands in the Northwest continue to face localized threats from development as well as the widespread impact of climate change, underscoring the need for increased wilderness protections like those in the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, currently pending in Congress. As a community, we continue to build grassroots support for protecting public lands and addressing the climate crisis.


Hone your conservation knowledge 

Having a better sense of what public lands are is critical knowledge to have when you’re outdoors - and to better advocate for their protection. In order to give all members of our community the opportunity to grow their understanding of our national system of public lands and how they’re managed, we invite you to hone and test your knowledge with our Public Lands 101 e-learning course. It’s a great way to brush up on the various federal land management agencies, understand designations of national public lands, learn about advocacy, and earn a badge in the process!


Let’s celebrate!

Whether you celebrate National Public Lands Day with a weekend excursion, a local hike, or plan to participate in an upcoming stewardship event like this one at the Snoqualmie Lake trailhead, it's always important to remember to recreate responsibly. By following best practices of responsible and low-impact recreation, we can do our part to protect public lands for all current and future users.


Lead Image of an olympia branch earth day stewardship event. photo by ginger sarver.