National Public Lands Day attracts visitors to Muir Woods

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Clementine Cunningham

A bridge across Fern Creek trail offers views of the redwood trees in Muir Woods.

Free access to the Muir Woods National Monument trails draws visitors from all over the United States every year on the fourth Saturday of September. 

National Public Lands Day, which took place last Saturday, celebrates spending time in U.S. national parks, protecting our environment, and sharing the beauty of nature by offering fare-free entrances. According to the National Park Service, it is the most significant single-day volunteering event in the U.S. 

“National Public Lands Day is celebrated by the National Park Service throughout the country,” said Julian Espinoza, the Public Affairs Specialist for Muir Woods.

The closest national park to Bay Area residents is the Muir Woods National Monument, nestled at the base of Mount Tamalpais, a mere 11 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. National Public Lands Day provides an opportunity to explore its breathtaking beauty at no cost.

Muir Woods brings people from across the country to enjoy its tall redwood trees and hike along the winding rivers snaking through the park. The national park draws roughly 1.2 million visitors annually. 

Whitney Kiker from Seattle, WA, came to Muir Woods with her friends. She loves the scents and atmosphere of Muir Woods. 

“The trail smells very fresh,” Kiker said. “You can smell the dirt, pine, and woodsy scents.” 

Keeping the trails clean is an opportunity for volunteers. On National Public Lands Day, the national parks organize nature clean-ups to remove trash from the environment. According to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, volunteers help remove non-native plants from trails, restore historical sites, and create programs to inform park visitors about the nature around them.

Volunteering opportunities are held throughout the year as well. Those who want to volunteer can apply to become part of the Volunteers-In-Parks, on the National Park website.  

Unfortunately, this year, there were fewer volunteering events than usual.

“As a result of local public health guidance, our volunteer opportunities this year were very limited, and we did not celebrate National Public Lands Day as we have in the past,” Espinoza said.

Nature is not the only thing preserved at Muir Woods. The Muir Woods staff also values protecting the park’s past by accurately explaining its history, including its original native American inhabitants, the Miwok.

A whiteboard placed on one of the trails ask hikers, “What word describes the way history is usually taught?” Answers include “bias, by the victor, opinions.” Underneath, the board asks, “What word describes how you want history to be taught?” Answers include “truthfully, shows all sides, with compassion.” 

Muir Woods ranger, Carmen Chan, said she was inspired to become a ranger to create more diversity in the parks and encourage people from different backgrounds to become rangers like her. To bring more people to Muir Woods, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a community outreach team.

“They bring recently incarcerated people, newcomers to the Bay Area, and people from low-income backgrounds to Muir Woods,” Chan said. “National Public Lands Day benefits Muir Woods by promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”