Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: culture

 
Map of the Homer Spit

The Spit: An integral facet of life in Homer


The Homer Spit is a gift of geological forces -- a natural jetty sticking some four miles into Kachemak Bay. Homer is here because the Spit is here. It is a source of artistic energy, a place to relax and get in touch with the rhythms of wind and wave, and a vibrant economic center.

By almost any measure, the city's economic future is tied to the Spit. Homer's commercial and sport-fishing fleets ply Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Alaska, and the bustling port and thriving visitor industry in the summer add to its active atmosphere.

The Homer Small Boat Harbor, operated by the city, offers nearly 800 individual stalls and 6,000 linear feet of transient moorage tie-up space. Vessel operators are requested to contact the Harbormaster on VHF Channel 16 prior to entering the harbor. All harbor users are required to register their vessel with the Harbormaster's Office, located at Ramp 2. The office also provides information on vessel safety, registration and other marine and tourist-related areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary monitors CB Channel 9 during the summer and is also capable of performing courtesy vessel safety inspections. Home-ported in Homer are the Coast Guard Cutter Roanoke Island and the Coast Guard Buoy Tender Sedge. The National Weather Service provides a menu of marine and local weather forecasts at (800) 472-0391 and at a transmitter outside of the Harbormaster's office. For more information on facilities and services, call the Harbormaster at 235-3160.

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This white-faced, sea otter, known by some as "Grandpa." is a regular visitor in the Homer Small Boat Harbor.

To make life easier for visitors and recreational fishermen, the city has fish-cleaning facilities, restrooms, high-mast lights and additional parking for boats, trailers and cars.

All the improvements have gone a long way toward making the Homer Spit an enjoyable place for all, but life was not always so easy. Since an English company established a coal mine near Homer in 1890 the Spit has survived the ravages of fire and water, the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and political battles over land use. It is a strip of gravel rich in history.

The community of Homer was established at the end of the Spit in 1898. Alaska Gold Mining Co., owned by Homer Pennock, an adventurer and con man from the Lower 48, brought a crew of 50 men on the schooner Excelsior 100 years after Russians first settled in Kasilof. Pennock's crew had gold fever and felt Kachemak Bay held the cure. Instead, they found the harsh reality of Alaska life. Yet the future was filled with promise and the community grew.

During the first decade of the 20th century, coal supported the fledgling economy. A mine at Bluff Point -- in the area now called Baycrest Hill -- was connected to the dock at the end of the Spit by railroad, which operated until 1907 when an act of Congress ended the coal trade. Until then, coal was shipped to Anchorage, Hope, Sunrise and to the few salmon canneries that had been developed for the burgeoning fishing industry in Cook Inlet.

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Homer is world famous for its sport-caught halibut, but the city also is the top port in Alaska - and therefore the world - in landings of commercially caught halibut. Nearly 12 million pounds of the fish crossed Homer's dock last year, most of which was iced and trucked down the Alaska Highway to grocery stores and restaurants in the Lower 48

With the mining companies in full swing, the Spit population swelled to several hundred, and buildings included a post office, warehouses and many homes. Though the coal trade soon ended, fishing continued to feed the economy, and Homer survived.

In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps paid workers $60 a month to begin construction of a dock. Camps were set up across Kachemak Bay to cut pilings. The Homer Civic League convinced citizens to contribute $25 each to purchase chains, spikes, decking and other supplies, and the Homer Women's Club raised enough money to build a large warehouse next to the dock. Local boats joined forces to haul log booms and planking across the bay. A pile driver was borrowed from Port Graham and five months later the new dock was christened -- just in time to receive autumn supplies. Ice took out the dock in 1947 when a severe winter froze Kachemak Bay completely, from Homer to Seldovia and up to the head of the Bay. Two years later, after citizens realized the need for taxes to maintain their new dock, they formed Homer's first local government body, a Public Utility District. The territorial government rebuilt the dock and Homer taxes supported it.

Before the Good Friday Earthquake in March 1964, the Spit had a large stand of spruce, and grassland where cows grazed. The quake caused the land to subside six feet, and at high tide the end of the Spit was an island.

It took $6.7 million and more than six years to reconstruct the Spit Road after that, but the finished road is higher, wider and paved. Even so, heavy seas and high tides have washed out the road several times since then, despite steel bulkheads, giant concrete armor blocks and tons of rock riprap. In the summer of 1999, a combination of state and federal funds built a new pedestrian and bicycle trail along the east side of the Spit Road that has proven immensely popular.

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The Small Boat Harbor may be the bustling heart of Homer's economy, but it also provides moments of peace and quiet.

Today, the Homer Spit stands at the doorstep of an economic boom. A deep-water dock serves freighters, and the new Pioneer Dock serving a larger Coast Guard vessel and Alaska state ferries will be completed in 2002.

Despite the opportunity for financial gain, many Homer-area residents are determined to preserve the unique blend of uses that makes the Homer Spit a combination of visitor destination, sport-fishing center, one of the busiest commercial fishing ports in the North Pacific, perhaps even a transportation hub for Southcentral Alaska, as well as a place where you can fly a kite or walk your dog on a quiet beach, awed by the power of nature.

Information

The Homer Chamber of Commerce Office and Visitor Information Center is located at 201 Sterling Highway -- the Homer Bypass. Open 11 hours a day, seven days a week through the summer and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. five days a week during the spring and fall, the visitor center provides maps, camping information and assistance to all visitors, as well as a phone, bathroom and limited retail items. Contact the Homer Chamber of Commerce at (907) 235-7740, by writing P.O. Box 541, Homer, AK 99603-0541, or at www.homeralaska.org.

Located on the Homer Spit and open all summer 5:30 a.m.-8 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. is the Homer Chamber of Commerce Jackpot Halibut Derby Headquarters. This log cabin next to Ramp 4 at the Small Boat Harbor offers halibut derby ticket sales, weigh-ins and information.

Parking

There are designated boat trailer parking spaces on the 30 acres past the load and launch ramp. A launching fee is charged; check with the Harbormaster.

Areas for long-term (seven days maximum) and short-term parking are marked. But beware -- some spots near the float ramps are marked for one-hour parking only, and overnight parking is not allowed near any of the ramps.

Seven-day parking is more plentiful, but is farther from the ramps. Don't park too long or the Homer Police Department will give you a ticket or impound your vehicle. For information contact the harbor office, 235-3160. There are parking areas near the Fishing Hole. Do not park on the beach.

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