Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 9:47 PM on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Secret to successful tourism reflected in Shorebird Festival

"Too rough and too weird to be a tourist trap," a New York Times travel writer once described Homer. While we think Homer's a bit more polished than that, the Times did get one thing right. Unlike some Alaska towns where tourism has become a bit too chintzy, we try to keep it real. With the tourist season getting off to a great start last weekend with the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, it's worth reflecting on the values that make this a great place to visit.

Countless citizens have told about turning the corner at Baycrest Hill and seeing their first view of Kachemak Bay — and falling in love instantly. Those mountains, those islands, the glaciers, the wild beaches and the wildlife are our best attractions. With luck, wisdom and a lot of love for the land, we've preserved that which makes Kachemak Bay special. Is it any wonder so many want to visit?

We're also a fishing town not totally reliant on tourism. Our harbor has hundreds of commercial boats where fishermen go out to sea and harvest riches. We also have a small research fleet and, of course, the Coast Guard Cutter Roanoke Island and Buoy Tender Hickory. That's part of the history and attraction of the harbor.

Some fear that with more cruise ships this summer, we risk becoming another port catering to big corporate tourism. Could Homer become a faux town, where our local characters perform like players in a Disneyland stage set? Let's hope not.

The Shorebird Festival shows how we can do tourism right. From a pattern of nature once known only to serious birders, we worked together to celebrate the amazing migration of thousands of shorebirds through Kachemak Bay. By all accounts, this year's festival was the best yet.

With high gas prices causing concerns that tourism might suffer, last weekend had an estimated attendance of 1,900, up 10 percent from last year. The birds arrived right on time. Twelve events sold out. A record number of junior birders participated. First Friday had more art openings than ever. Add to that good weather, and there were smiles all around.

Homer has built around the festival a lot of fun activities to keep everyone entertained. As one Fairbanks visitor commented, "I can't choose because I want to do them all. Would you consider making this a week-long festival?"

The Memorial Day weekend used to be our traditional start of the season. With more seasonal businesses opening on shorebird weekend, maybe the start needs to be pushed up earlier. The rest of Alaska has discovered what we already know: the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is a great way to get out of town and experience Alaska at its finest.

That's the kind of tourism worth encouraging: events centered on the natural wonders of our beautiful bay, with everyone participating to showcase our town. The 20th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is May 10-13, 2012. We hope it's even better. Based on the hard work and community support, we think it will be. Congratulations to all who made it a success. See you next year.