The Homer Playground Project got started when a group of people — mostly mothers (some with children in tow), a couple of city staff people, and a few folks dedicated to recreation in the Homer community — met at the playground in Karen Hornaday Park in late spring 2011. At the time, yellow CAUTION tape surrounded a number of pieces of play equipment. The tire swing — made out of a steel-belted radial — was so worn it could draw blood.
And other parts of the playground looked like a mess.
Update: The caption has been corrected on the fishhook sculpture photo properly identifying it as a circle hook.
And like that, another furious tourist season draws to a close — or nearly so — on the Homer Spit. A great blue heron was among the Labor Day weekend visitors. Like many others on the Spit, it likely will head someplace else soon.
A thawed salmon filet that tastes the same as a fresh one? Is this too good to be true?
A group that calls itself Ocean Rich Communities of Alaska, or ORCA, says it is interested in bringing a high-tech Japanese freezing technology to the Homer Spit that can produce once-frozen fish indistinguishable from fresh fish even by Japan’s top sashimi chefs. The technology, they say, can freeze fish and other food for up to 30 years with no major degradation in quality.
The vibrancy of the Spit depends on a mash-up of diverse elements and individuals: captains and slime liners, potters and biologists, Spit Rats and third-time cruise ship passengers, locals and people from all over the world, and crane operators and chefs and wanderers and everyone in between. This week’s Spit story reports on three outposts that help shape Spit culture.
LIVE THEATER ENERGIZES THE SPIT
t was an idyllic childhood on the Homer Spit that Mo Hillstrand enjoyed during the summertime, when her parents, Mary and Earl Hillstrand, original owners of Land’s End, ran the hotel.
Beginning with the hotel’s opening in 1958, the family would migrate down from Anchorage each summer and live in an apartment above the lobby. Hillstrand remembers making driftwood forts, swimming in ponds, and playing games of tag across the tops of tall stacks of crab pots.
In this climate-changed world, there are reasons to get sentimental about ice. It is old, for one. Our local sheet — the Harding Icefield — was formed more than 23,000 years ago. And it is disappearing.
But it’s not ice George Tyrer feels nostalgic about. It is the 32-year-old ice-making machines Tyrer has been running in the City of Homer’s Ice Plant on the Fish Dock at the end of the Spit for the last decade.
Fish cutters at Coal Point Seafoods notice there’s less halibut coming into the 23-year-old fish processing business on Thursdays. Clad in head nets, aprons and rubber boots, they might grumble about filleting boney pollock instead.
On Thursdays, they see more pollock, as well as salmon, lingcod, and rockfish instead of halibut, which streams into the building as soon as charter boats return to the harbor every other day of the week. Owner Nancy Hillstrand confirms that Thursdays are slow.
In 1966, when Daisy Lee Bitter, then a middle school science teacher in Anchorage, first brought a school group down to Homer for a daylong marine science field trip on the Spit, the group came by chartered DC-3 twin-prop airplane.
Bitter was eager to show her students the incredible diversity of marine invertebrates you could find along the Spit, a place she had by then been visiting for about a decade.
You can’t venture onto the Homer Spit without noticing something new and interesting — totes of beautiful red rockfish just unloaded at the Fish Dock; dark gray seabirds, shearwaters, among the scores of kittiwakes and gulls off the tip of the Spit; the 90-year-old wooden halibut schooner, the Grant, back in the Homer harbor after a longlining trip; a cooler careening down a steep harbor ramp, flinging its lid into the water.
This week’s Spit story provides a few updates about things you may have noticed.
When you pull over Baycrest Hill and catch a glimpse of the Spit, it almost looks like a hook dangling in the gaping mouth of Kachemak Bay.
And then you pass the sign proclaiming Homer to be the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” Last year, 2.8 million pounds of halibut came over the Homer dock. That was 18 percent of total commercial halibut landings in the United States, and the most poundage of any Alaska port.
Which makes the Homer dock a busy place.
When you’re standing at the tip of the Spit, you’re already four-and-a-half miles into Kachemak Bay. But the Spit has always served as the springboard to outings that take you far beyond those miles.
Most of the traffic at the Salty Dawg at 11 a.m. on a recent Monday consists of tourists buying sweatshirts. But there’s some workaday drinking going on in here, too, including three guys from Louisiana off the 250-foot M/V Reliant. Employed by a contractor for Crowley on a natural gas pipeline up Cook Inlet, they’d tied up at the Deep Water Dock in the early morning for boat repairs.
And they had been waiting eagerly since 8 a.m. for a cold beer.
“If you want a bit of advice, this Spit needs a place for 24-7 beer,” Luke Wamble says.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect that Shell is not moving 1,900 people to Alaska this summer.
A massive red-hulled ship tied up at the Deep Water Dock last week. The 750-foot-long M/V Marika was an impressive sight as it dwarfed structures on the Spit. It stayed through the weekend and then untied and set anchor in the bay just in time for the M/V Statendam cruise ship to slip in on Tuesday morning. The 817-foot-long Minerva Antarctica is scheduled to arrive today and remain through Sunday.
Tom Schroeder’s got time on his hands. So much time he’s booked about 150 hours so far this season at the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, otherwise known as the Fishing Hole.
Schroeder has fished the Hole since the first salmon returned after the original smolt were stocked here in 1984. When the fish are in, chances are you can find him sitting on a white plastic lawn chair with a black cushion on top along the Hole’s rocky edge.
he town of Homer was born on the Spit so it makes sense that this 4.5-mile-long rocky handle of land also raises up generations of its kids.
Take 14-year-old Finn, the namesake of Finn’s Pizza. A winter resident of Portland, Ore., Finn has spent every summer of his life on the Spit. When parents Sasha Raupp and Bjorn Larson opened the restaurant in 2001, they would put baby Finn to bed in a fish box in the attic space above the restaurant when they were closing up shop.
But once Finn was old enough to toddle down to the beach, he did.
It was probably the shortest job in the business. Marine pilot Captain Donal Ryan took the M/V Midnight Sun out of its anchorage off the tip of the Homer Spit to the pilot station near the green navigational buoy. From getting out of his car in the parking lot near the Salty Dawg to getting back in, the whole operation took only an hour. Ryan boarded the 839-foot vessel and ascended 10 flights of stairs to the bridge.