Uniting to Clean up Our Communities with National Public Lands Day’s Robb Hampton

September 19, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Robb Hampton, who’s the Director of the National Public Lands Day program in Washington, DC. Welcome to Green is Good, Robb. ROBB HAMPTON: Hi. How are you? JOHN SHEGERIAN: We are great today, and we’re so honored to have you on because we know there’s a big event coming up that all of our listeners around the United States and around the world have to learn more about. But before we get to that, I want you to share a little bit, Robb, your journey, how you became the Director of the National Public Lands Day program, and how you went from a Sun Devil all the way to Washington, DC. ROBB HAMPTON: Well, I grew up in Darnestown, Maryland, which is not too far from Washington, DC, and I traveled all the way out to Arizona State University. Like you mentioned, I’m a Sun Devil, and so I went out there. I studied business in school. Around my junior year, I switched my major to Parks and Recreation Management because I just fell in love with our public lands system, and specifically all of the public lands in Arizona and in the West. It was my time out there that I really fell in love just with being outdoors. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was lucky enough to get an internship and then a job at the National Parks Service in their Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs back in Washington, DC. I learned so much more about our National Park Service system and the legislative process, and I was still unclear, though, what I really wanted to do. Then I found a position at an organization called the National Environmental Education Foundation as a Program Coordinator, working on a thing called National Public Lands Day, and that was 11 years ago. I’ve been there ever since, and I was made the Director of the program about six or seven years ago. I’d like to think that I’ve grown the program significantly since then, and it’s really just been part of my life ever since. I really do think that I have one of the coolest jobs out there, promoting public lands, and getting people out there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a tremendous story. Thank you for sharing that with Mike and I and our listeners. When your folks reached out to us for you guys to come on the show, this was a fascinating thing to Mike and I, because I’ve got to be honest with you, Robb. I’ve never heard of National Public Lands Day, so I thought this was real important for us to discuss here today in studio and with our listeners across America and across the world. Share with us and share with our listeners what even is National Public Lands Day, and when is it? ROBB HAMPTON: Well, National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest volunteer hands-on event of its kind for public lands. It’s held every year in September. It’s the last Saturday of every September, and we typically have over 180,000 volunteers at over 2,000 different public land locations across the United States. All federal land management agencies are our national partners, so agencies like the National Parks Service and Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, and the Refuge Systems, they’re all official partners. We also have relationships with several of the state parks systems across the United States, and many, many cities and towns throughout the United States organize volunteer events. Many of the volunteer events can be anywhere from just 10 people up to huge lake cleanups with thousands of volunteers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Let’s talk about this, volunteers. Give the suite of opportunities that volunteers can do, and the activities that they can be involved with during your NPLD events. ROBB HAMPTON: That’s a great question because it really is based on what site the volunteer goes to and what is in their local area. But some of the more popular volunteer activities are planting trees and other native vegetation, building and refurbishing trails, of course removing trash and debris and invasive plants are a big issue on our public lands, repairing bridges, repairing historic structures and other cultural icons are also a big project. They can do endangered species monitoring on refuge systems, of course, and restoring habitats altogether. There are also a lot of just unique projects that happen, that at the end of the day, we’re really trying to bring the community into these public lands to learn more about their local public lands and why what they’re doing is important. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. For those listeners who just joined us, we’re on with Robb Hampton right now, and Robb’s the Director of the National Public Lands Day program. Mike and I have your beautiful website up, and we encourage some of our listeners now, if you have your iPad or laptop or you’re in front of your desktop while you’re listening to Green is Good, pull up Robb’s website, www.publiclandsday.org. It is really a really, really nice website, and there’s lots of great information here. I know all of you who look at it will really be inspired about the type of involvement you can do and how amazingly important this really is. Mike? MIKE BRADY: Yeah, it’s really cool because what you’re talking about, John, I went on. Robb, kudos on this site because it’s so easy to navigate, but if you go in and you want to find a site, no matter where you are, you just type in your zip code and you can put in a radius of anywhere from 25 to 50 miles or even more. I called up our zip code here in Fresno, California, and within 50 miles, I found four different things that we can do, including something very cool that I already heard about. Many of our listeners are already taking active part, but cleaning up the San Joaquin River by canoe. ROBB HAMPTON: That’s right. That’s a great point. This year, for National Public Lands Day, we’re supporting the Let’s Move Outside initiative by the First Lady, of course. That initiative is to get more people outside and moving. For what we’re doing for National Public Lands Day, of course volunteering is getting out and moving, but we’re also promoting outdoor recreation at our events. After a day of volunteering, if you have the energy, go for a trail hike and explore nature. We’re asking our site managers to highlight the different recreational opportunities at the sites, so that’s a great example of a site manager getting people out canoeing, involved, and volunteering at the same time. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You get to touch and see and meet a lot of people, Robb. If we were all right now in your building in Washington, DC, and on an elevator together, and of course September 24th is approaching and we were just doing a 60 or 90 second elevator chat, talk to our listeners out there. Why is it really important for Americans to participate in National Public Lands Day? ROBB HAMPTON: Well, I would say that National Public Lands Day is a great opportunity for you or you and your family to get off the couch. It’s a great opportunity to get out and enjoy beautiful settings, natural settings, and give back to your community. Volunteers can participate as a family or with your school or community group. For example, the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the United States, they’re two excellent National Public Lands Day partner organizations. This is also a great opportunity to get your kids outside. Everybody with kids is always looking for an opportunity to get them out of the house and get them moving, and we’re really trying to erase the nature deficit among the next generation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. When you say there’s 180,000 volunteers, who? Who does your volunteer base look like? Do you have a definition of who, or is it really such a cross-section of age and everybody else? ROBB HAMPTON: It really is the latter. We really like to think of National Public Lands Day as an opportunity for everybody. We’re traditionally, before the last five years, we were primarily an event for federal public lands, so national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands. But we’re really trying to take volunteer opportunities into urban areas, and at the same time, we’re really trying to reach out to youth and urban youth to get out and volunteer and get exposed to the parks and public lands within city limits. So, we had a big push to get more cities involved. The city of Denver is involved, the city of Los Angeles is involved, Orlando is involved, Washington, DC, Tacoma, Washington, all getting involved, and we’re looking to get more cities involved and more use and more urban use, specifically. JOHN SHEGERIAN: As Mike pointed out, again, we’re on your website now, and it really is just really clear and nice to look at and easy to navigate, which is so important when it comes to a website. It’s very easy to find events. How I’m reading the website right now, you have how many events on September 24th coming up that people can jump into and avail themselves of across every zip code in this nation? ROBB HAMPTON: Right now we have a little under 1,500 sites participating. We anticipate that over 500 or 600 more sites will register their volunteer events by September 24th. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What was your biggest year ever, Robb? ROBB HAMPTON: Every year we continue to grow. This will be our 18th year doing National Public Lands Day, and we’ve never had a year that has less volunteer events than the year before. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is so important. I’m so glad that you took the time, and we’re so appreciative you took the time to share this with our listeners today, and everyone who gets to listen to Green is Good after it airs on the Clear Channel Radio Network, and even up on the iTunes network across the world. Talk a little bit about, though, your vision, how you’ve grown this, because even though it’s on September 24th, 2011 this year, National Public Lands Day is on September 24th. It’s coming right up in front of us. Talk a little bit about, though, the expansion of it, that it’s really no longer just a one-day event, and it shouldn’t be, by the way. It’s really becoming an everyday experience that we should all want to enjoy and all really take ownership of. ROBB HAMPTON: Yeah, that’s another great question. The growth of National Public Lands Day is really significant because of the sponsorship that we’ve had from Toyota Motors Sales, USA. They have asked us in many discussions over the years, how can we make National Public Lands Day every day? We’re ready to move on that program, but the last two years, we’ve been working with our extensive database of site managers, friends’ organizations, leaders of community organizations that work with these public land organizations. We found that many of them are very successful, they’re great at what they do, they’re very passionate, but many of them are volunteer-driven. They might not have what we’re referring to as the organizational capacity that they need to run the best friends organization or non-profit organizations, so we’ve built what we’re calling the Everyday Program. The last two years, we’ve had a grants program where we have asked for applications from these friends’ organizations to work on organizational capacity, and the feedback that we’ve gotten has been tremendous. It’s just been almost too many applications. This past year, we’ve been able to give about 25 $1,000 grants to friend’s organizations that are looking to increase their organizational capacity. In addition to that, we’re looking to expand National Public Lands Day in a way over the next several years, so that we can provide site managers the tools that they need to host volunteer events throughout the year or environmental education events or outdoor recreation events. So, those tools might include things like volunteer manuals, media kits, things like that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. So, you’re really trying to take it from a one-day event to an everyday paradigm, so people change their mindset and really have the tools, then, to do this on a regular basis. ROBB HAMPTON: Absolutely. I mean, we feel that our public lands, especially now with the way that the economy is, provide a cheap or oftentimes free way to get outside for entertainment and health purposes. It’s a wonderful opportunity, our public lands, to get out and get connected to the community, so why not expand National Public Lands Day? JOHN SHEGERIAN: If you just joined us now, we’re so excited to have Robb Hampton on with us. Robb’s talking about National Public Lands Day, which is coming up on September 24th. You can check out the website and sign up to participate. www.publiclandsday.org. Robb, you mentioned Michelle Obama, the First Lady, before, and the Let’s Move Outside initiative that she’s heading up, which is so wonderful of her. What’s your connection? How do you connect, for our listeners out there, connect the public lands movement and personal health? ROBB HAMPTON: Well, I mean, I think it’s really an easy connection for us. We’ve been doing public lands equal public health forever. Of course, when you’re getting out and volunteering, being exposed to nature and the sunlight, those are all good things. Add volunteering to the mix, and you’re killing calories. You’re burning calories. You’re moving. You’re definitely coming out of the day having exercised. Then with the launch of the First Lady’s Let’s Move Outside initiative, it really challenged us to look at all of our National Public Lands Day sites and encourage our site managers to promote even more outdoor recreation to connect with National Public Lands Day. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. You said earlier that you got a job when you were evolving professionally at the National Environmental Education Foundation, Robb. Talk a little bit about the Foundation itself, besides running NPLD day, which is, as we discussed, is coming up on September 24th. All our listeners, if you’ve got the time, please take that day to be involved and to get involved. As you can tell, what Robb’s explained today, what an important day it is for all of us to initiate change in this nation by being involved with our public lands that are close by to where we live or work. Talk a little bit about, Robb, the National Environmental Education Foundation and what they do besides just this amazing program that you run. ROBB HAMPTON: Yeah. The National Environmental Education Foundation is a non-profit organization. We’re based here in Washington, DC, and we’re set up a lot like a lot of people are familiar with the National Parks Foundation or the National Forest Foundation. We’re set up a lot like that, and our complementary organization is the United States Protection Agency. Our mission really is to extend the EPA’s ability to foster environmental literacy in different segments of the American public. We have different programs within the National Environmental Education Foundation that really focus on our network of what we refer to as trusted professionals or trusted leaders. Those are health professionals, weathercasters, teachers, and in the case of the National Public Lands Day program, land managers. So, we have different programs that we focus on using those networks to help advance environmental knowledge. For example, we have a program called Earth Gauge, where we increase public knowledge by bringing environmental information into American homes through TV weather forecasters. So, you might get a tip about the environment through your local TV weathercaster. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. So, you really help educate America on a regular basis through different platforms. ROBB HAMPTON: Yeah, that’s really what we’re looking to set out to do. We think we have a good model, and it’s been very successful. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is a specific program that we’re talking about today, National Public Lands Day on September 24th. Are there other specific days and other specific events that the National Environmental Education Foundation is in charge of? ROBB HAMPTON: Yeah, we just had in April a National Environmental Education Week, and that was the week leading up to Earth Day. That basically promotes environmental education leading up to Earth Day, specifically in classroom environments. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. It’s just not about public lands. You guys really focus on the environment, education, Earth Day. You guys have a lot of things going on there. ROBB HAMPTON: Yeah, health and business, as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. That’s what we talk about here on Green is Good regularly, people, planet, and profits, and it seems like you guys hit all of those. Robb, what you’ve done in your tenure as the Director of this great program, where do you want to go, though? You’re a young guy. You’ve been running this great, great event every year, and now you’re making it an everyday event. We have a couple minutes left on the show. Where do you want to take it in the coming years? ROBB HAMPTON: I think we can just keep on growing this program. We really haven’t hit a plateau yet, and what I’d really like to see for this program, as far as just National Public Lands Day, is really reaching out to the cities and urban environments, and really making National Public Lands Day a household name. You started this interview off by saying you’d never heard of National Public Lands Day, and yet, it’s really popular among public land managers. What we really need to do is get it out in front of the public, so interviews like this are really helpful to our program. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and we appreciate having you on. Mike and I are just sitting here, and we’re just really blown away by the great work you’re doing and your organization is doing, and things of that such. We have a lot of young listeners, in high schools and colleges across the country, that e-mail Mike and myself all the time. They listen to great people like you and they become very inspired, and then the e-mails come in, like how can I become the next Robb Hampton? Can you share in the last minute-and-a-half of our show — I know you were kind enough to share your journey on the front end — but any pearls of wisdom for the generation coming behind you that want to really make a difference, that want to change the world every day like you are? Any coaching or pearls of wisdom you can bestow on them? ROBB HAMPTON: One area that we do have to help guide young people that are interested in pursuing environmental careers is we have two websites, classroomearth.org and planetconnect.org. Those are within the National Environmental Education Foundation’s suite of websites. But then on a personal level, I just say to the young listeners — it sounds cliché- Find out what you love to do. Follow it and if you can make a job out of what you love to do, then you’ll be happy for the rest of your life. Don’t really worry about the income part of things; that will all work itself out, hopefully. But just follow your dreams, follow your passion, and be happy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well that is so nice, Robb. Mike and I are so appreciative that you came on today Green is Good to talk about the National Public Lands Day that’s coming up on September 24th. All of our listeners across the United States, please get involved, and please go to Robb’s great website, www.publiclandsday.org. Robb Hampton, you are a sustainability leader, and truly living proof that green is good. ROBB HAMPTON: Thank you.