Public Lands: What are they & how can we enjoy them?

Posted by Paul Dreyer on October 4, 2018

I love traveling, particularly to different countries. When I travel, my sense of gratitude for all things expands. One of the many things that I am consistently more grateful for every time I return from travels abroad is my (and our) ability to access “public lands” in this country.

 Hiking on public lands

When I talk about “public lands” to other people, they often think I’m talking about our National Parks. Of course, our national park system is vast and truly amazing, but our public lands encompass so much more. In addition to national parks, federal public lands includes national forests, national grasslands, wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Avid4 Adventure is based in three states - Colorado, California, and Oregon. Yup, we’re really lucky to live and play in these states:


% of the state that is Federal Public Lands

Acres of land that is federally protected

State rank by % of Public Land



100 million




66 million




62 million


I love telling people, (as Woody Guthrie told us all years ago,) that these millions of acres of forests, riverways, and mountain tops are all ours - this land is your land, this land is our land.

 backpacking expedition public lands

A recent bipartisan poll showed that a majority of Colorado voters (65%) hike regularly, and 52% are regular campers. Eighty-two percent of Colorado voters plan to visit a national park this year. In the latest “State of the Rockies” poll, researchers found that in the seven mountain states, voters prefer safeguarding air, water, wildlife and recreation on public lands over mining and drilling by a massive 3-1 margin. Not surprisingly, all of these numbers are similar in California and Oregon.

Amazing, right? Well, there is some bad news, too. Despite support of public lands, recent rollbacks of our lands protections have drastically slashed the size of national monuments in Utah, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, eliminated protections for sage grouse throughout vast areas of the arid West, and increased coal/oil/gas leasing and access on public lands.

 backpacking kids

In addition, state legislatures have passed, introduced, or explored legislation in recent years demanding that the government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the state. If the sponsors of these proposals succeed, these lands may be used in whatever way the new owner – state or private – wants to use them. This leaves the door open to more potential reduction of our public lands. 

How to get Involved to help protect Public Lands

 mountain hiking kid

All of us, (kids and adults,) can be active in protecting public lands. It’s up to individual citizens to hold elected officials and decision makers accountable to the values that define our public lands heritage. Here are a few things that we can all do:

  1. Go outside to hike, bike, climbing, paddle, fish, hunt, and watch wildlife.
  2. Join local, regional, and national groups like the National Wildlife Federation that fight for your priorities.
  3. Take advantage of opportunities for citizen involvement in decisions affecting our public lands: public meetings and hearings with decision makers, public comments periods, town hall meetings, and other forms of citizen (and kid) engagement.
  4. As needed, reach out directly to your elected officials through letters, phone calls, or social media platforms. Tell them you value our public lands. Your representatives are duty-bound to listen. Visit the following links to find and contact your elected officials.

Additional resources to check out:

  • Our Public Lands - a place for hikers, hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to get information about the public lands where they enjoy their favorite activities.
  • National Forests - created by congress with the mission to bring people together to restore and enhance our National Forests and Grasslands.
  • Outside Magazine's "Public lands war timeline" - an interactive timeline outlining rollbacks in public lands protections since January 20, 2017.
  • Outdoors Alliance for Kids - a national partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors.

At Avid4 Adventure, we empower kids and families to stay active outdoors. We build confidence and develop skills in kids so they can enjoy spaces like our National Forests and Wilderness Areas. Please join us in making sure public lands remain protected.

Learn more about our new programs in Oregon and how you can help expand our mission in Portland:

I want to help! >>


Topics: Outdoor Advocacy