Alaska’s state parks have given us, our families and our millions of visitors some of the greatest outdoor recreational opportunities in the world. But if we want to keep our state parks and outdoor recreation programs healthy into the future, it’s time for us all to sit down and map out a new trail.
The Alaska State Park system is the largest in the nation, made up of 121 different units offering hiking, camping, boating, picnicking, education and more to over 4.4 million Alaskans and visitors each year twice the number who visit Alaska’s national parks.
Our state park system enables everyone, regardless of age, background, economic or social circumstance, to enjoy the state’s natural beauty and experience a wide range of recreational activities. From the wild waters of the Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest, to the myriad campgrounds and boat launches of Southcentral, to the historic sites of Southeast and the many parks and trails in between, we provide incalculable benefits to the quality of our lives and the diversity of our economy.
As our full name indicates, the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation means more than parks. We also are responsible for programs that serve the public, such as the Office of Boating Safety, Alaska Trails Program, Office of History and Archaeology, State Historic Preservation Office and other popular grant programs.
But we face real challenges. A combination of decades of enthusiastic use and the erosive effect of inflation on generally flat state appropriations have overwhelmed our small but dedicated staff and stretched our resources to the utmost. This has created a dangerous backlog of deferred maintenance work and called into question our ability to continue providing an acceptable quality of facilities and level of services to our visitors into the future.
That’s why Natural Resources Commissioner Michael Menge directed our division to develop a strategic plan to meet these challenges by clarifying the division’s mission, framing a new vision to accomplish that mission and setting clear and achievable objectives.
In response, our planners began meeting this summer with more than 40 stakeholder groups to help identify what the division does best, determine where it could do better in the future and plot a course to get there. In addition, more than 300 Alaskans completed online questionnaires to share their suggestions. This public input was distilled into a 38-page Draft Ten-Year Strategic Plan for 2006-2016, available online at: www.dnr.state.ak.us/ parks/plans/strategicplan.htm
This draft plan identifies core values, such as providing outdoor opportunities, enhancing safety, visitor services, managing resources based on sound science and protecting and understanding our cultural and natural resources.
The plan includes mission and vision statements and provides goals, objectives and action strategies to achieve the vision laid out in the plan.
Starting today, we’ll begin the next step in the process, a series of 11 statewide open houses to present the plan and give Alaskans the opportunity to ask questions, provide input and get more information. We’ll incorporate those comments and come back with a final plan by the end of the year.
The plan will serve as the trail map toward progress, as we seek new approaches to meet our challenges in funding for operations, capital investment, deferred maintenance, staffing and customer services over the next 10 years.
I invite everyone who shares of love of Alaska’s parks to join us in this process. Read the draft plan, attend the open house in your town and share your comments in person or in writing. By helping us craft a new Strategic Plan, I believe we’ll be fulfilling our mission to ensure that we and future generations of Alaskans can enjoy the same quality outdoor recreation opportunities that have made Alaska’s State Parks such an important and rewarding part of our life in the Great Land.
Jerry Lewanski is the director of the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. An open house meeting is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Kenai River Center in Soldotna.
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