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Volunteers Band Together to Help Keep America Beautiful

One third of the land in the United States belongs to the public. And once a year Americans get a chance to help make these public lands beautiful and healthy for generations to come. VOA's June Soh visited public gardens in Washington, D.C. on National Public Lands Day in late September. Carol Pearson narrates the story.

In this smelly pond, Karenna Armington cleans up lotus for hours. It is one of 46 ponds in Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. "My husband and I were out here a few weeks ago just to enjoy the day and park. Clearly the place was gorgeous, as it always has [been], but it needed help. I was wondering how they keep all these 40 something ponds from filling up."

Armington participated in National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest hands-on volunteer effort to improve and enhance the public lands that Americans enjoy.

Robb Hampton, the program director, says, "This year we are anticipating over 110,000 volunteers participating at over 1,300 different work sites in all 50 states across the country."

In this 14th annual event, volunteers of all ages and groups got together in parks, forests, rivers and cultural and historic sites to pick up trash, shape and prune trees, build trails and much more.

Michael Clark of Washington, D.C. came out with his wife. "I think as an individual probably [I can make] a little change but with all the people we have here, it seems over 100 people, I think we can make a big difference, make this park grow out more beautiful."

This year the theme for National Public Lands Day was removing invasive plants and species. The U.S. Agriculture Department says the government spends $120 billion a year to control the impact that invasive species have on native lands and wildlife.

Kathleen Bucco is a park ranger at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. She says volunteers help lower the cost tremendously. "First of all, there is moral support just knowing that the public cares about the parks. That really matters to us. And there is also physical support that we are getting things done that might not happen otherwise."

Dan Markley of suburban Arlington, Virginia says the benefits for participating in the event go beyond making an improvement in the public lands. "The best part about today is seeing diversity come together. And people from all over -- they have their own stories -- just like I am part of YGL [Young Government Leaders]. These groups are working together, talking together and coming out as a whole."

After hours of hard work, the volunteers are ready to relax. They say they will have sore muscles, but there is not a better way to spend a Saturday. And when they see the beautiful gardens again next spring, it will be great to know that they put something into them