Celebrating the Wild Wonders of West Virginia on National Public Lands Day

A West Virginia landscape in the fall.

Public lands are portions of land owned by the general population and managed by the federal government. According to the Congressional Research Service, approximately 640 million acres of U.S. land is federally owned across the country. In West Virginia —  a place famously nicknamed “Almost Heaven” for its natural splendor —  about one fifth of the state’s 15.5 million acres is publicly owned. These public lands are accessible to anyone, giving the general public space to connect with nature and learn about local wildlife. An advocate for West Virginia’s environmental and economic development, Brad D. Smith has taken steps to encourage his fellow mountaineers to embrace, appreciate and utilize the state’s natural resources and beauty.

The History of National Public Lands Day and How It’s Celebrated

National Public Lands Day was created as an annual celebration of the iconic parks, rivers, mountains and forests across the United States. Led by a partnership between the National Environmental Education Foundation and the National Parks Service (NPS), the holiday is held every fourth Saturday in September — this year’s celebration taking place on September 23. National Public Lands Day raises awareness for conservation efforts, encourages environmental stewardship, and ignites a connection between people and the great outdoors. Additionally, the holiday is one of the largest single-day volunteer efforts in the U.S. — giving adventurers and park goers an opportunity to give back. Those who volunteer with designated projects are even granted a one-day pass to any national park site by the NPS as a token of appreciation for their effort and kindness.

Here are some ways to celebrate National Public Lands Day this September:

  • Take time to explore a national or state park near you.
  • Get outside and connect with nature by going for a walk, hiking, biking, kayaking or enjoying another outdoor activity.
  • Volunteer to help with an in-park project. Not sure what projects are happening near you? Visit the NPS to learn how to get involved.
  • Expand your knowledge about public lands by watching a documentary or reading up on the history of public lands.

Public Lands in the Mountain State

West Virginia boasts 35 state parks, six national parks and nine state forests — all of which offer visitors an opportunity to see and appreciate the state’s scenic views of mountains, rivers and forests. The state’s parks and forests (all of which are public lands) support the protection of local wildlife and ecosystems — creating a healthier environment for all. Public lands preserve the integrity of West Virginia’s natural resources while giving tourists and locals a place to explore the outdoors. Tourism from public lands also brings in revenue to West Virginia communities, simultaneously creating jobs and boosting local economies.

Brad’s Commitment to Preserving His Home State

As a West Virginia native, Brad D. Smith has made giving back to his home state a top priority throughout his lifetime. In recent years, he and his wife Alys have established organizations and programs to support the economic and environmental development of West Virginia, uplifting both the land and its people. In 2020, the Smiths established the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC) through a partnership with West Virginia University. The OEDC aims at revitalizing communities and enhancing the quality of life for those living in the state by advancing its outdoor economic and recreational infrastructure. By emphasizing the benefits of taking part in outdoor recreation, the OEDC not only helps people realize the impact it has on their own health, but also builds a larger appreciation for West Virginia’s natural resources. 

In addition to the OEDC, Brad and Alys also co-founded the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, which focuses on uplifting Appalachia through three pillars: education, entrepreneurship and the environment. With a mission to showcase West Virginia’s potential while preserving its land, Wing 2 Wing invests in companies that responsibly utilize the state’s natural resources while helping to build a sustainable future.

Protecting the Land to Protect the Future

Public lands serve as a place for people to enjoy and explore the outdoors. This National Public Lands Day, take a moment to get outside, visit a state or national park, or lend a hand with a local volunteer project.

For West Virginians looking for inspiration on how to celebrate National Public Lands Day, check out Brad’s blog post on outdoor recreation in the Mountain State.