Get Out and Help Out on MLK Day

Where and how to serve your community and the environment on this national day of service

By Alexandra Malloy

January 16, 2017


Photo by bowdenimages/iStock

Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day is technically a “holiday,” it was designed to be a day on, not a day off—both a way to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a call to work toward King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.” 

King helped galvanize the environmental justice movement, beginning with his 1966 strike in Chicago over housing conditions and his 1968 strike against poor sanitation in Memphis. As King said in 1957, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” 

There are many ways to get in touch with nature while also giving back to your community on this national holiday. On this day of service, get outdoors and get engaged. 


Park Cleaning/Restoration 

In Philadelphia, McPherson Square Park and the Thomas Mansion property are both looking for volunteers to help clean up trash in the area and remove invasive species. McPherson Park provides a playground and a free library to the neighborhood. Thomas Mansion was built for George Clifford Thomas in 1869 and is now managed by the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust. 

Other opportunities: 


Invasive Species Control and Native Species Planting 

At Buddy Attick Park in Greenbelt, Maryland, help remove English ivy and protect native trees from hungry local beavers. You can also plant Washington State’s only native oak tree, the Garry oak, at the Bayshore Preserve in Shelton. In Oakland’s Shepherd Canyon Park, locals can plant native Californian bunch grasses and wildflowers to help create monarch butterfly habitat. 

Other opportunities: 


River and Beach Cleanup 

Keeping our nation’s waterways clean and pollutant free is vital to the preservation of our natural resources and environment. Whether it be picking up plastic along the shores of the Verde River in Clarkdale, Arizona, or in Rodeo Beach in Marin County, California, it’s a chance to protect the water and create a healthy environment for people and wildlife. 

Other opportunities: 


The National Park Service 

Here’s a fun fact: Admission to all national park sites is free on MLK Day. Not only is this a great excuse to get outdoors or learn more about U.S. history, but certain locations are also offering service projects. Point Reyes National Seashore will host a beach cleanup and a chance to help with dune restoration, and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is looking for volunteers to help with park beautification. 

Other opportunities: 

From trail building in Columbia, South Carolina, and promoting energy efficiency and climate resilience in Atlanta, to beginning phenology in Reno, there are environmental volunteer opportunities all over the country. 

For more information on how to get involved in your area or to register your own activity, visit