CHEROKEE, NC. (WATE) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is holding an event for the 29th National Public Lands Day (NPLD) with opportunities for visitors to help with park improvement alongside Park Staff and volunteers.

On Saturday, September 29 at 9 a.m., the kick-off event will begin at 9 a.m. at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center located at 1194 Newfound Gap Road in Cherokee, North Carolina.

There are various volunteering opportunities, and Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe shared that the opportunities are designed to accommodate “folks of all abilities, no experience necessary.”

“Litter pick-up with Save Our Smokies is a great way to get out and about in the park and work at your own pace.  The trail maintenance project will be shoveling and compacting gravel to fill in low places on the trail that collect water.  We will work as a team alongside NPS staff  to share the workload and have a great day out there as well as get needed work accomplished.” Monroe said.

Volunteering opportunities are organized by multiple groups. The Save Our Smokies volunteer group is coordinating the litter pickup and graffiti removal. There will also be scientists with Discover Life in America on-site from 9-11 a.m. to encourage the public to participate in collecting information about the plants and animals that they see on their visits to the park using the iNaturalist app.

Throughout the day, park rangers and volunteers will also be providing information about “Leave No Trace” and leading activities at visitor centers as well as on trails throughout the park.

“All visitors are welcome to join us for the morning kick-off led by NPS management and enjoy a crisp morning in the smokies with a cup of coffee.  Might even see some elk!” Monroe added.

In 2021, the GSMNP had more than 14 million visits, and volunteers play an especially important role in the park. Last year, over 2,700 volunteers provided an estimated 108,890 hours of service. Park partners Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) and Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) provide support for the Volunteers in the Park Program and are pitching in to make NPLD a success.

At the kickoff event, FOS will be providing morning refreshments, and GSMA will be providing a $10 coupon for all NPLD volunteers to use at the visitor center bookstores. (While these treats are not the main reason to volunteer, they do sweeten the deal.)

“National Public Lands Day is the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate the many benefits of the park, while also rolling up our sleeves to help take care of it,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The park both protects some of American’s best treasures and provides a vital space for people to improve their physical and mental health.”

When getting ready to go help out, volunteers will want to wear long pants, sturdy closed-toe shows, as well as layered clothing for varying temperatures. The park directs that volunteers should bring water, lunch, and some rain gear, but when it comes to gloves, safety gear, and tools, the park will take care of those.

Ahead of the event, the GSMNP asks volunteers to register for the opportunity by emailing GRSM_Volunteer_Office@nps.gov by Friday, September 23. For more information, call Trail and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or Volunteer Coordinator Nick Yarnell at 865-436-1265.

NPLD was established in 1994 and is held annually on the fourth Saturday in September. The day is traditionally the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort according to the GSMNP. The park shares that the goal of the NPLD is to celebrate the connection between people and the green space in their community, inspire environmental stewardship, and encourage the use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits. More information is available on the National Park website.