2021: Giving Thanks to Our Federal Public Lands

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This past spring Recreation.gov hosted its inaugural “Share Your Story” adventure writing contest, designed to encourage visitors of our federal public lands to share details of their meaningful outdoor adventures and experiences. The contest resulted in more than 1200 submissions, with stories that touched our hearts. One message that resonated throughout the submissions was that of gratitude:

Jamie L., one contestant, underscored how our federal public lands provided a light amid the darkness:

 “We made such wonderful memories during a year that most of us want to forget, and our country's National Parks were such a central part of that. We are so grateful they were open, with so many staff available to guide us, educate us, and keep everyone safe with increased precautions due to the pandemic. It really made 2020 a year to remember for us, for all the RIGHT reasons. Thank you!” ~Jamie L

Other submissions told stories of young children who now have a dream to become park rangers, and campers who transcended to become stewards of our public lands. Whether it was a hike in a local forest or a weekend by the campfire, a first-time adventure or a tradition that had been passed down over the years, these stories inspired us.

Chapters of Gratitude” is a collection of these inspirational travel experiences, particularly those that express a heartfelt message of gratitude for all that our public lands provide. We hope these personal accounts will inspire your next outdoor adventure with Recreation.gov.

Below are a few highlights from story submissions. To view more stories, visit the Share Your Story – Story Gallery.

We Cleaned it up!

Kelso Dunes Wilderness, California

Kelso Dunes Wilderness, California

“We cleaned it up!” is a story about a couple who are now stewards of our public lands. After arriving to a campsite full of litter, they almost gave up on the trip of a lifetime. Instead, they had a life-changing experience after they decided to clean up the campsite, themselves.

 “4 hours and ten minutes later that site, 50 plus feet by 129 feet, was CLEAN.” … “This experience has never left me; it was life changing. That 4 hours and 10 minutes gave me the time to reflect on the many times I'd walked past a carelessly discarded container, or some broken glass. I can still hear myself saying, "this land is my land".

"We cleaned it up!" features Kelso Dunes Wilderness, California.


Here is our Tree

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah

Ask me about Christmas as a child and I’ll walk you through the annual routine of carrying the tattered, cardboard box containing an artificial tree down from the attic and into the living room. I’ll tell you with a nostalgic smile how my mom and I carefully hung every ornament onto each respective tree branch.”

After going online to purchase a Christmas tree permit for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Braxton and his family found the perfect tree; one part of his experience he will never forget is that “our family bonded over an adventure, and that will never change.”

"Here is our Tree" features Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah.

The Backpacking Rookies

Inyo National Forest, California

Inyo National Forest, California

As a longtime day hiker, I toyed with the idea of backpacking but never thought I was strong enough. Then the pandemic came. I was desperate to find a respite from stress. On social media, I saw plenty of small-framed, not-so-muscular women like me with towering Ospreys and Gregorys strapped to their backs, posing triumphantly by pristine lakes and peaks in the Eastern Sierras. I wanted to know what the wind felt like in the high country. I wanted to dip my feet in that bracing turquoise water. Phil and I booked a permit for three nights at Treasure Lakes in August, giving ourselves a goal and a deadline.”

Read about how their trip began as a comedy of errors and ended as an empowering accomplishment.

"The Backpacking Rookies" features Inyo National Forest, California.


Past, present, future... with love

Hartwell Lake, Georgia

Hartwell Lake, Georgia

This touching story shares how the great outdoors was a bonding experience for family, as well as with the many other friends they’ve met from “every culture and walk of life” who enjoy staying at Hartwell Lake. 

Past, present, future...with love features Hartwell Lake, Georgia.

What a Blessing Nature is

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina (and additional locations)

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Sherry looks forward to her weekends in the parks as much as she would staying in a 5-star hotel. She’s learned to love the simple pleasures of the outdoors, like grilling dinner on an open fire, fishing, and sleeping in a tent.  
Life is so much better now and we include the outdoors in our life as not only fun but it is therapy and relaxation

What a Blessing Nature is features Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.



To read more stories visit the Share Your Story – Story Gallery.


To find additional tools and assets for the “Chapters of Gratitude” campaign visit the Recreation.gov Media Center > Logos & Guidelines >Download Chapters of Gratitude tool kit. (Link will be inserted).

Check back to Share Your Story for information on our next contest and sign up for our newsletter to learn about Share Your Story and other exciting travel tips and adventures.

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