In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Parks for the people: all benefit from outdoor spaces

In our own backyard

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


Photographer: Lindsay Johnson, Homer News

Two girls sit and watch a family of ducks at Beluga Slough earlier this summer.

Where do you send the relatives after they've been fishing, flightseeing, shopping and washed all your dishes? What do you do when your 4-year-old cannot be content in the house for another minute? Where do you go when you need to step out in the middle of the day? What's your preferred picnic location?

The park.

Multiple choices await those who search for a playdate with nature in Homer.

From the Baycrest overlook to the pocket park by the fish dock, the Karen Hornaday complex to Mariner, Homer's parks have something for everyone.

Maybe that's why so many find Homer to be a good place to live, why it's called "the city that works."

Community Recreation Director Mike Illg said parks definitely contribute.

"As a parks and rec professional I think parks and trails and recreation are essential to a quality of life to a successful community. The more parks we have the better the community is going to be health-wise. Parks are a place for, A. people to play and exercise; B. an opportunity to interact with nature; and C. meet new people, socialize, have a party," Illg said.

The city of Homer maintains 17 designated parks, ranging from small, undeveloped refuges to large arenas with all the amenities. Another seven park areas are used for recreational purposes, but not yet dedicated by the city, bringing Homer's total official park acreage to more than 520 acres. These areas feature ball fields, playgrounds, picnic shelters, restrooms and trails, built for us, the public, to use and enjoy.

These bits of nature in the midst of civilization are indeed signs of a highly-civilized society and they're definitely not limited to what's constructed by city government.

A movement recognizing the role of moving around outside in health and development is growing locally with increasing activity from Nature Rocks Homer, the city's Karen Hornaday Park improvement committee and HoPP, the Homer Playground Project.

"Spending time outdoors gives us better health in general — physical health, mental health, spiritual health — so to find outdoor places that engage the brain and build that sense of wonder, no matter what age, is really valuable in today's society," said Carmen Field, member of the Nature Rocks Homer group and educator with the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.

"Nature Rocks coalition is certainly encouraging families to find nearby nature that includes local parks, wild zones, especially as many families can't necessarily afford going across the bay doing big outdoor trips," Field said.

Nature Rocks teamed up with the Kachemak Bay Equestrian Association to bring people closer to the land through events such as the mud wallow, where kids and adults are invited to, yep, play in a big pit of mud. KBEA owns the 3.2 acre Cottonwood Horse Park and has opened it to the public.

"It's a nice wild place," President Roberta Highland said. "For our kids, for our community for our future, that was our thinking."

Besides the wallow and the obvious horse arena, the park features a big sand pile, tall cottonwoods with a pair of nesting bald eagles, picnic tables and a small stream.

There's also the 1.1-mile Kachemak Heritage Land Trust's Calvin and Coyle trail, which includes a viewing platform of the Beluga wetlands.

Parks and trails go hand-in-hand. Even if you're not going to stop, you can soak up the benefits of nature in Homer by taking a trail instead of the sidewalk.

The trail from the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center to Bunnell Street and the Bishop's Beach/Beluga Slough area is another in-town refuge for all walks of life.

"To me the value of it is a place we can go to see wild things. Even though it's a tiny little pocket of land, just a walk past Beluga Slough lifts your spirit. Often many of our wild places are hard to get to, but this is something all of us can walk to and get to very easily and enjoy this little pocket of wild right in our town," said Marianne Aplin, manager of the visitor center.

There's no shortage of things to see and do at developed park spaces in town but for the people who want to get way out, well, there's a park for them too.

Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park includes one public land-accessible area on this side of Kachemak Bay– the Eveline Rec area 11 miles out East End Road– but most of the park's 400,000 acres lie across the bay. Accessible by boat or by plane, the big park is punctuated by lakes, streams and glaciers and offers more than 80 miles of trails, numerous camping options and beaches for days.

Big and small, developed or not, parks are the people's backyard, and we're lucky to have the one we do. Parks give us a reason and a means to celebrate being here, which is exactly what is planned in upcoming weeks.

Saturday is Park Day in Homer, which will feature a work party, some food and maybe games from noon-4 p.m. at Jack Gist Park. It's an opportunity to build a sandbox and help clean up the proposed disc golf course, be outside with others.

A Public Lands Day Celebration will be 7-8:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. That event recognizes the partnerships that made Beluga Slough and Bishop's Beach accessible to the public. There will be an exhibit of the amateur photo contest and an art-enhanced walk in the park.

Lindsay Johnson can be reached at