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Now is time to enjoy state parks, locally grown food

As a state, Alaska has one of the largest portfolios of oil, gas, minerals, water, land and renewable energy resources in the world. Responsibly managing these resources is our key focus at the Department of Natural Resources.

But our duties at DNR extend well beyond oil, gas and mineral development. With summer upon us, we want to highlight integral parts of our mission that can enhance your family's experience in Alaska -- in particular, our beautiful state parks and our Alaska Grown food.

Encompassing 3.3 million acres of mountain, lake, forest, and coastal landscapes, the Alaska State Park system is the largest state park system in the U.S. by far and provides affordable, year-round recreation for people of all abilities -- right in the backyard of Alaska communities.

Our goal is to make Alaska's state parks the pride of all Alaskans, and to that end, we are creating new opportunities to engage the public. We're very proud, for example, of our "Arts in the Parks" program, launched last year, which brings together some of the best attributes of Alaska -- our talented artists, our beautiful landscapes and outdoor recreation activities.

We held our first Arts in the Parks program last summer at Byers Lake in Denali State Park. I had the opportunity to attend that two-day event with my youngest daughter. For us, the highlights of the weekend included seeing Denali in full view, spending time with friendly, enthusiastic artists as they rendered the beauty of the park on canvas, and then viewing the 100-plus paintings created at the park in that two-day time span.

This summer, we set a busy calendar for the Arts in the Parks program. We've had two successful events in Juneau and Kodiak so far. Today and Sunday, we're hosting a two-day program at the Eklutna Lake Day Use Area with a packed schedule of family events that kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday. Additional events are planned at the Independence Mine State Historical Park on July 4-5 and at Chena State Recreation Area on August 25-26. We hope you'll consider attending one of these events.

Also this summer, we hope you will enjoy another great Alaska natural resource - our tasty Alaska Grown food. DNR's Division of Agriculture plays a critical role in promoting our farmers' harvest to consumers, schools and food retailers. The hard work by the division and Alaska's farmers is paying off. Farmers markets around Alaska are proliferating -- we've seen the number of markets rise from 15 to nearly 40 in five years.

Our Alaska Grown Restaurant Rewards Program is also taking off. This program, launched in January, uses grant money to offer financial incentives to qualifying restaurants that purchase Alaska Grown produce and promote it on their menus. The program is generating positive news stories in Anchorage and Fairbanks. I recently tried a delicious, all-Alaska Grown meal at the Hot Stixx restaurant in downtown Anchorage and discussed the program with Hot Stixx chef Mike Dodge. The passion that he and other chefs have for putting Alaska Grown on their menus is inspiring.

Eating locally is good for our local economies. It supports our farmers and our small businesses, and increases our food security. And the food is fresher and more delicious. If you aren't already doing so, we encourage you to look, ask for and buy Alaska Grown in restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets.

Finally, because it's summer, it's also fire season. Fighting and managing fires is another critical part of the DNR mission. Our Division of Forestry has many tips to help you protect both your home and help you avoid igniting fires when you are out recreating. Please be careful!

Whether you recreate in the outdoors or enjoy the local harvest, we hope that this summer will be a memorable one.

Dan Sullivan is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.