In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 12:40 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2011


By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Coal Point Park offers a pleasant spot to picnic and watch the harbor.

As Homer's city parks go, Coal Point Park barely makes the map. Compared to big parks like Karen Hornaday, Coal Point isn't much. Heck, the restrooms at Karen Hornaday are almost as big as Coal Point. The city's official description is as modest as this gem tucked away at the back of the harbor.

"A lovely small park next to the Fish Dock with excellent views of the harbor," the city guide says. "This is a great spot to watch the boats come and go from the harbor and see fish being unloaded at the Fish Dock."

Small as the park might be, it stands out among the frenzy of the commercial fishing end of the harbor. At the end of Fish Dock road near the harbor entrance, next to a gravel turn around and by the Petro Marine fuel dock, Coal Point Park holds a rare distinction on the Homer Spit.

It has trees.

After the 1964 earthquake killed the forest at Green Timbers, the Spit lost its big trees. Behind a monument for the 1967 Alaska Centennial spread some of the tallest trees on the Spit, though the spruce trees at Pier One Theatre come close. A spot of grass not even big enough for a crochet match offers a flash of green at an otherwise sandy and rocky place.

Tired of pitching fish? Grab your thermos and sack lunch and take a break at the picnic table in the park. Been polishing the bright work on your 32-foot ketch and need to stretch your legs? Take a stroll along the harbor and sit down in some shade.

Done scraping barnacles off your boat on the boat grid? Wait at the park while the tide refloats your rig.

Grab your binoculars and watch Homer's working and pleasure boats come and go. Look over at the harbor rocks and you might see a blue heron, oystercatcher and other rare birds.

There's a bit of history to Coal Point, too. The monument documents the past: "Site of the Cook Inlet Coal Fields Company Roundhouse, railroad shops and boardwalk," a plaque reads. "The original Homer townsite was surveyed by the land office of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1896."


Photo by Michael Armstrong

In 1899, the Cook Inlet Coal Fields Company ran a 7.5-mile narrow gauge railroad from Coal Creek — now known as Bidarka Creek near West Hill Road — to the end of the Spit at Coal Point. Back before Homer became the Halibut Capital of the World, coal was king and the Spit was a company town.

The CICFC built Homer's first dock. Coal mined from the bluffs got hauled along the old railroad. Ships heading up Cook Inlet or out to the Aleutian Chain stopped at Coal Point to resupply. A 1901 photo in Janet Klein's "Kachemak Bay Communities" shows a busy dock with a small town on the Spit.

By 1902, the CICFC left. The McAlpin Coal Mining Company took over, but couldn't get patents to the coal claims after President Theodore Roosevelt locked up entry to coal lands. About 20 buildings remained.

By 1905, the Spit had only one resident, postmaster Stephen Penberthy, Klein notes. He'd come to town with Homer Pennock and stayed on as caretaker of the buildings. The Salty Dawg preserves one of the buildings, but most got salvaged for lumber by later settlers.

The park could be more on the map when the Homer Spit Trail eventually gets extended to the future End of the Road Park near the Pioneer Dock. The plan is to route the trail around the harbor and to Coal Point Park and then past the dock.

If on a fall day it seems a bit quiet at Coal Point Park, maybe the ghost of Penberthy can keep you company. Enjoy the relative solitude and think back more than a century ago when a town of 5,000 had just one lonely man.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at