updated 3/2/2009 3:46:35 PM ET 2009-03-02T20:46:35

Earth Day organizers are hoping an army of volunteers will heed President Barack Obama's call to service and turn out for the annual celebration next month to make lasting improvements to the nation's parks, schools and beaches.

Simultaneous service projects are planned in New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco and six other major cities April 17-19. Organizers said Monday that the flagship event will again be on the National Mall in Washington.

"It will be really fun and hard work and, I hope, life-changing for a lot of people," said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, which emerged from the original Earth Day in 1970.

Earth Day is celebrated worldwide every April 22.

Volunteers will plant trees in Denver and New York, clean up beaches in Los Angeles, spruce up a major Atlanta park and operate a bicycle valet service for visitors to Washington's monuments.

Organizers say they've gained momentum in recruiting volunteers and planning this Earth Day ever since Obama issued a call for a new spirit of volunteerism the day before he was sworn in.

"I think there's a different spirit in the country even though it's a very difficult time," said Peter Shapiro of the Green Apple Festival, one Earth Day organizer. "It's not enough to just change a light bulb anymore. It's not enough to just turn off the lights."

In Chicago, volunteers will restore urban bird habitats, plant trees and improve a nature trail. A bird rescue group will train San Francisco volunteers how to wash and care for birds that become coated in oil and gunk from spills.

The projects will be followed by "thank-you" concerts in each major city April 19, though organizers aren't yet revealing the artists planned. They are organizing an even larger series of events in 2010 under the theme "Green Generation" to mark Earth Day's 40th anniversary.

Rogers said she hopes that once volunteers complete this year's projects, from cleaning up littered beaches to weatherizing energy-inefficient schools, that they will press government for more changes to defend the environment. She said organizers are also urging volunteers to get involved in fighting climate change.

"You have a leader and a public that may be on the same page," Rogers said of Obama's focus on service and the environment. "This administration and this Congress have seen the green train running them over, and they want to get on board."

Background on Earth Day events is online at earthday.net/

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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