It doesn’t get anymore in our backyard than Woodard Creek. For 541 Homer lots, Woodard Creek not only is in the backyard, in some instances the city’s only year-round flowing creek might go right through a lot — or under it. That’s the case for the Pratt Museum and the Homer Council on the Arts, two nonprofits that border Woodard Creek and have the creek slip underground through their property.
Last Thursday, the Woodard Creek Coalition held an open house to inform people about its activities and get people involved. Formed in the fall of 2014, the coalition includes property owners, nonprofits, conservation groups and the city of Homer Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. Its mission is to bring those groups and property owners together to promote the health and safety of the creek and watershed.
“This is not a coalition that says, ‘Hey, we want to do this with this watershed.’ We are a coalition that says, ‘Hey, we should probably have a plan,’” said Matt Steffy, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission who moderated last week’s meeting.
On an official U.S. Geological Survey map, the creek doesn’t even appear. The map identifies its upper origin as “Woodward Canyon,” with an extra “w.” By Karen Hornaday Park the creek is obvious, but as it snakes through town, it might appear only as a trickle through heavy alder brush. On Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway, the creek goes through culverts. At Bishop’s Beach it pops out again as a little canyon west of the Homer Elks Lodge, where it meets Kachemak Bay.
“We thought it was a mystery creek,” said coalition member Jim Heston, who’s lived near Woodard Creek for 40 years, at a presentation in January before the Homer City Council. “It went down into the ground and came out somewhere in China.”
Even its name can be confusing. According to Janet Klein in her book, “A History of Kachemak Bay: the Country, the Communities,” a 1901 Cook Inlet Coal Fields Company map calls it Cooper Creek, after Joseph Cooper, who had a cabin at the base of the Homer Spit. Delphina and James Woodard and her husband also lived on the Spit, but after he died in a boating accident, she moved to the Homer bench, where by the 1920s she raised cattle on her homestead on what is now much of downtown. The creek and canyon are named after the Woodards. Klein said Delphina was illiterate and sometimes spelled her name “Woodward.”
Discussions about forming a coalition go back to 2000, when Cook Inletkeeper held a meeting at the Pratt to discuss concerns about protecting the creek. In 2004, a University of Washington graduate student, Laura Ballock, even did a master’s thesis about developing a plan for Woodard Creek. Her visit prompted the loose formation of a coalition.
In the October flood of 2002, the city learned about how the creek could get out of control.
“The creek filled with water, dirt and debris. Chunks of coal, brush and logs quickly plugged culverts, and the water rushed over Fairview Avenue,” the Homer News wrote in the Oct. 31 issue. “The water blew manhole covers off and overflowed on the south side of Pioneer Avenue. By the time it hit the Sterling Highway area, the creek was unstoppable.”
Since then, the city has addressed some of those issues. When the city rebuilt Soundview Avenue west of Bartlett Street, it put in a wide, vault-like culvert that made the crossing more like a bridge. Steffy said the city has asked for something similar when the state rebuilds Pioneer Avenue at Bartlett Street. Another idea would be to build an actual bridge that would include a pedestrian underpass.
As part of its capital project, the Pratt Museum eventually plans to “daylight,” or open up the section of Woodard Creek now buried in its back parking lot. That would come after the new museum is built and the collection moved from the current building. The Homer Council on the Arts also plans to daylight its section of the creek.
At the coalition’s open house, visitors were asked to comment on things like information needed about the creek.
Looking at some of the comments, Steffy said, “Just as valuable, there were things pointed out we don’t know. We’re going to start asking those questions.”
The coalition meets the second Wednesday of every month at the Pratt Museum, with its next meeting at 11:30 a.m. March 11. People interested in helping with the coalition are welcome, Steffy said.
“If anyone wants to be involved after tonight, we can make you really involved,” he said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodard Creek Coalition
To bring together “diverse groups, property owners and citizens to promote the health and safety of the Woodard Creek Watershed as a community asset.”
The creek itself:
Named after Delphina Woodard, it’s Homer’s downtown creek, flowing from Woodard Canyon near Skyline Drive past South Peninsula Hospital and Karen Hornaday Park, west of Bartlett Street and through Old Town to Kachemak Bay. Parts are underground at the Pratt Museum, Pioneer Avenue, the Homer Council on the Arts and the Sterling Highway. Also known as Woodward Creek and Cooper Creek.
Second Wednesday every month at the Pratt Museum
11:30 a.m. March 11, Pratt
Diane Converse, Pratt Museum, 235-8635
Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeepr, 235-4068
Robert Archibald, 299-0852
Facebook — Woodard Creek Coalition, www.facebook.com/WoodardCreekCoalition