When Mother Nature recently called 17-year-old Francisco Francisco to serve, he didn’t hesitate to answer.

The San Fernando High School senior arose at 6 a.m. sharp last Saturday to participate in the National Public Lands Day celebration. The event was one of many across the country that brought volunteers together to help care for and restore the country’s public lands, including national parks and national forests.

“I feel I have a connection with nature and I feel a need to give back,” Francisco said. “I love nature. I want to make a difference in the community and that’s why I’m here. It’s a day for everyone to take a moment to appreciate all that we have here in Los Angeles.”

Francisco’s science club classmate Jennifer Gomez, 15, concurred.

“Nature has given us nice scenery and lots of nice places to enjoy,” she said. “It’s really good to give back and say thank you. I want to help restore the park so more people can come out and enjoy it. Lots of kids stay inside and I think restoring the forest would maybe make them want to come out and enjoy it.”

In L.A. County, the Angeles National Forest, designated one of 14 treasured landscapes across the country by the National Forest Foundation, recently served as the location for this year’s National Public Lands Day event where about 60 volunteers did forest restoration, trail maintenance and removed invasive species.

Among the volunteers doing trail maintenance along a three-quarter mile stretch was Caroline Choi, vice president of Integrated Planning and Environmental Affairs for Southern California Edison (SCE). She has served on the board of the forest foundation for the past two years.

“It was a lot of fun working with others on forest restoration,” she said.

Through the support of volunteers, the healing continues to help parts of the Angeles National Forest damaged in the 2009 Station Fire which burned for two months and devastated 252 square miles. Since then, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation have been working to improve conditions in the Angeles National Forest.

Last year, in a continuing effort to help the organization implement its Station Fire Restoration Strategy, Edison International provided the National Forest Foundation with a $150,000 grant funded entirely by shareholders.

“With the support of Edison International, the National Forest Foundation has been able to actively engage diverse interests to help improve conditions in the Angeles National Forest so that residents and visitors can continue to enjoy the benefits of this treasured landscape,” said William J. Possiel, National Forest Foundation president.

The future of U.S. forest lands and public accessibility to open space, said forest foundation organizers, depends on future generations’ willingness to maintain and care for the nation’s landscapes. 

“We’re obviously coming back from the 2009 Station Fire,” said Janet Clayton, senior vice president of Corporate Communications for Edison International and SCE. “It’s important to have open spaces for our children.”

In addition to forest restoration, staff from the National Forest Foundation led students on a forest exploration that included teachable moments, such as identifying different tree species and determining how much carbon exists within trees.

Through National Public Lands Day celebrations, forest organizers hope to educate more youth about public lands and forests, introduce them to their many enjoyable resources and offerings and encourage them to get involved in the care of U.S. landscapes for their future survival.  

That goal seemed to resonate with more than a few students. For some, it was their first experience in a forest environment.

“I’ve never been here before,” said Ashley Rodriguez, a 13-year-old ninth-grader. “It’s cool but scary because they said there were snakes.”

Jennifer, another first-timer to the Angeles National Forest, scanned her surroundings.

“It’s breathtaking to see the mountains and nature,” she said.